California Fire Destroys 12 Structures, Forces Evacuations

Challenging terrain and weather hampered firefighters in Northern California as a blaze grew quickly Thursday afternoon, forcing evacuations as the flames destroyed homes, scorched vegetation and threatened a tortoise sanctuary, authorities said.

The blaze broke out around mid-afternoon in Shasta County, just south of Redding, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.

The fire quickly grew to 304 acres (123 hectares), Cal Fire said. The Redding Record Searchlight newspaper reported that at least three homes burned. The blaze was 25% contained shortly before 8:30 p.m.

Cal Fire reported Thursday night that 12 structures had been destroyed, though it was not immediately clear how many were residences.

Firefighters aggressively attacked the blaze from the ground and the air, Cal Fire said in a news release, and crews will work overnight to strengthen containment lines and mop up around structures.

An evacuation center was set up at a high school in Anderson, home to about 11,000 residents. Officials didn’t immediately say how many people were under evacuation orders.

Flames briefly threatened Tortoise Acres, a sanctuary dedicated to turtles and tortoises in Anderson, co-owner Katie Hoffman told the San Francisco Chronicle. Hoffman said she managed to evacuate with her horses before receiving word that the property was spared, with the only damage some singed fencing.

The cause of the Peter Fire was under investigation.

Click here to read the full article in AP News

Inflation Hits 9.1 Percent, Highest Level in 41 Years

Inflation picked up speed in June, rather than slowing.

Prices were 9.1 percent higher in June than a year before, exceeding expectations and surging to a 41-year high.

Department of Labor data released Wednesday morning showed that inflation picked up speed in June, rather than slowing. Prices rose by 1.3 percent during the month, up from a 1 percent increase in May. A sharp rise in energy prices, and gasoline prices particularly, helped power the annualized inflation rate to its highest levels in more than four decades. Food prices rose by 1 percent during June, and are up 10.4 percent over the past year.

Meanwhile, so-called “core inflation” which filters out the more volatile prices for energy and food, accelerated as well. That category saw a 0.7 percent increase in prices during June, up from 0.6 percent in May.

Wednesday’s topline inflation number came as a surprise—Dow Jones, which publishes expected inflation figures a few days before the official government data is released, expected 8.8 percent rather than 9.1—and might signal that the battle against rising prices will prove even more difficult.

The Federal Reserve raised interest rates by 0.75 percent at its meeting in June and is expected to do the same later this month. Economists polled by Reuters expect that further interest rate increases are on the horizon.

Higher interest rates should help slow inflation by signaling a marginal benefit to saving over spending. Inflation is the result of too many dollars chasing the same pile of goods and services, so higher interest rates make it less attractive to borrow and spend.

But how quickly that strategy will work remains an open question. Larry Summers, the former Obama administration treasury secretary who correctly warned about rising prices last year in the wake of the American Rescue Plan’s passage, believes it will be a persistent problem.

“There are no miracle cures or silver bullets,” Summers told a radio station in Boston last month. “Monetary policy, which what the Fed is doing, belatedly, does work with respect to inflation, but it takes quite a while.”

One potential glimmer of hope is in gasoline prices, which have been falling during July after rising sharply in June and being a major driver of overall inflation for much of the year. The national average today is $4.63 per gallon, according to AAA, down $0.14 from a week ago and $0.38 from this time last month. Falling gas prices might ease prices for other goods too, since they’ll make it less expensive to ship products across the country.

Another positive sign could be the glut of excess goods that retailers say they have to unload in the coming months. After months of pandemic-related supply chain snafus, department stores and other big retailers have piles of goods that they would have liked to sell long ago—which means consumers could be seeing big discounts for certain items, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Politically, however, gas prices well over $4 per gallon and persistently rising prices throughout the rest of the economy continue to be a yoke around President Joe Biden’s neck. Polls show that inflation and prices are Americans’ top concerns.

Click here to read the full article in Reason.org

The Possible 2024 Presidential Run of Governor Gavin Newsom

With speculation over a possible run building, the Globe takes a quick look at how successful that would be

Following Governor Gavin Newsom’s signing into law of a bill that allows lawsuits to be made against gun makers for negligence on Tuesday, more and more media outlets began speculating that he may be running for President in 2024. And while both President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have said that they would be still be running in two years, the fact remains that Newsom may try and swoop in and steal the nomination away. So let’s take a look at how Newsom could possibly accomplish that.

First off, Newsom seems to have been building up to something big in recent months. He has taken strong stances on gun control and abortion recently in reaction to an uptick of mass shootings and the Supreme Court’s recent overturning of Roe v. Wade, bringing him national exposure. He’s also put ads in other states, most notably his July 4th Florida ad, which is either, depending on who you are, a pro-California hurrah or possibly the cringiest political ad in recent political history. Even more, Newsom and one of the current Republican frontrunners, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, have been in a sniping war for months over their states. So we may already be seeing the 2024 or 2028 political battle right now.

All this, plus Newsom not saying that he won’t run in 2024, makes it in the cards that he is a go.

Next is background. And let’s push out what he did in office quickly and just look at his elected offices on his resume:

  • San Francisco Board of Supervisors from 1997 to 2004
  • San Francisco Mayor from 2004 to 2011
  • Lieutenant Governor from 2011 to 2019
  • Governor from 2019 on.

On paper, that is an impressive climb with a lot of experience that anyone with that, regardless of party, does have quite the pedigree for higher office.

But let’s push all of what he did back in. And look, I typed “Gavin Newsom controversies” into Google and got 909,000 pages back. When I was gathering links of what he had done just as Governor from the Globe’s archives, it looked like I was going into the Library of Congress. Even giving a highlight reel would still make for a small book. Suffice it to say that for every good or successful thing Newsom has backed, such as the Care not Cash program in San Francisco in the early 2000’s that replaced giving straight cash to the homeless for medical care and other health programs, there has been one other that had disastrous consequences, like extramarital affairs with wives of his own aides.

Looking at a possible run for Governor Gavin Newsom

If he were to run, Biden and others would have a field day with Newsom’s past. To his credit, Newsom has tried to make amends for some of his more negative actions, like seeking treatment for his alcoholism. But other things would not be so easy, especially on a national stage. Affairs are a notable political killer, or at the very least are guaranteed to bring you down at least 20 points in voter popularity. Democrats in particular can bring up issues that would hurt him within his own party, like his failure to make San Francisco a sanctuary city in 2009 despite his promises.

Again, he does have several “a broken clock is right twice a day” moments and has been shown to give a damn about several issues, but his time as Governor will be brought heavily into the spotlight in a possible run for the Democratic nomination. And whatever the Democrats don’t fire on him, you can be sure the Republican candidate will if he manages to get the nomination.

Like his propensity for ignoring his own laws and guidelines. As the Globe has pointed out, he has had a long history of this, but in the last few years he has, multiple times, ignored his own mask mandates, and has ignored state travel bans, like his recent Montana outing. Ted Cruz got this once badly looked at by the press last year for going to Mexico during a state crisis. For Newsom, this is a regular thing.

And that’s not even getting into the fact that he would be running only a few years after a major recall election against him, which no presidential candidate has really done before. For anyone running against him, that is a huge issue to use that, for most politicians, would be insurmountable.

Telling, Newsom is also behind in polls to Biden despite the President facing a growing disapproval rating. He’s still ahead of Harris in a possible run, but if other candidates join the fray, Newsom may not have as big a shot.

This is by no means a full vet. Many, MANY things haven’t even been mentioned, both positive and negative, that Newsom has done in the past 25 years of holding elected office. Most readers can probably think of a few things that the Governor has done that has affected them personally. Again, all of that is important, but this isn’t a book about the ups and downs of Newsom’s life. This is just a quick look at what if Newsom does give it a go.

And, on the outside, right now, it doesn’t look like he’ll do well. Biden is more popular than Newsom, not to mention a growing favoritism of Republicans nationwide right now. That’s not to say that Newsom could reach that point, but he would need to find a way to greatly counter all the points against him. And in a debate, opponents would just need to start talking about his recall, or how homelessness is still prevalent, or the housing situation, or wildfire containment, or his past affairs, or maskgate, or a plethora of other topics, and he would have to go into defensive mode.

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

California Built a Safety Net for Millions of Undocumented Residents. Here’s How it Happened

Isabel Coronel, 76, walked in a hospital for the first time in almost 30 years last month. Coronel, an undocumented immigrant, had spent decades laboring in Inland Empire fields, picking watermelon, cilantro and radishes. She didn’t have health insurance and feared deportation if she tried to access medical care. She endured high cholesterol and blood pressure, severe knee pain, vision loss and the long-term effects of her January bout with COVID-19 rather than risk a hospital visit.

That changed on May 1, when Coronel became eligible for Medi-Cal. She was among 235,000 undocumented adults who gained access to the state’s income-based health insurance network through a new expansion of the program signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom last year. “I give thanks to God that I now have my Medi-Cal because I didn’t go to the doctor before,” Coronel said in Spanish. “Many of us need to go to the doctors and we don’t because we don’t have the ways to do so and we have fear of everything.”

Her access to health care follows a decade-long campaign in California’s Capitol to build a social safety net for the state’s roughly 2.3 million undocumented immigrants, an effort that culminated last month when Newsom signed a budget bill extending Medi-Cal access to all remaining uncovered adults. The milestones include driver’s licenses, protections from deportation, tax breaks, COVID-19 pandemic relief and now health care. It’s the strongest social safety net for undocumented immigrants in the country, advocates say. Undocumented immigrants “don’t get out of the system, what they put into the system so I hope this serves as an example to the rest of the country,” said Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, D-Los Angeles. “We’re in the forefront of policies to treat the undocumented as real Americans, real Californians because they contribute so much.”

The immigrant-friendly policies come at a time when other states are trying to push away undocumented residents. In Texas, leaders are empowering state authorities to return migrants to the border. And last month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation that requires law enforcement agencies in the state to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to crack down on immigration. California’s expansion of social programs resulted from multiple factors, such as organizing by pro-immigrant advocacy groups who played a long-game in advancing policies during former Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration that Newsom later signed into law and the power a generation of Latino leaders accumulated in the Capitol just two decades after the state’s Republican leaders tried to prohibit any government spending on undocumented immigrants.

Click here to read the full article in the Sacramento Bee

High-Profile Crime Wave Fuels Growing Support of Recalling LA’s DA George Gascon

Attacks includes assault against Olympian Kim Glass in LA

A string of high-profile crimes in and around Los Angeles just since July 9th has led to a drastic increase of support for recalling Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon due to many seeing them as being caused by his soft on crime’ criminal policies.

The latest wave of high-profile crimes began early Saturday morning when famed rapper Snoopy Blue was shot in South Los Angeles. While many other high profile crimes were reported on  Saturday, an attack on Olympic volleyball silver medalist Kim Glass by a homeless man made national and international headlines. Glass, who was struck in the face and elsewhere by a homeless man wielding a metal object, survived the attack. However, her scarred face was everywhere on Sunday and Monday as news of the attack spread.

Finally, on Monday, a string of six attacks on 7-11 convenience stores in cities ringing LA County  in Riverside, Orange, and San Bernardino Counties left three injured and two dead. While some have blamed the robberies and violence on it simply being the day in question being 7-11 (July 11th, or 7/11), many of the local police departments believe that the same person is involved in at least some of the robberies and attacks.

The high profile crimes in and around LA have spurred many in LA County to continue the push against DA Gascon and support the growing recall movement against him. While the signature drive for the recall is over and the current signatures are currently undergoing validation, Gascon is nonetheless losing ground over his progressive reform policies effectively embolding criminals. Many crimes have been reduced in severity to misdemeanors along with the end of cash bail, allowing many criminals to return to the streets quickly out of local jails. Since Gascon was sworn in as DA in December 2020, crime across the city has shot up significantly in everything from robberies to homicides. LA County as a whole has also seen a crime surge in this time.

“In the last several days, Southern California, Los Angeles in particular, has seen a lot of notable attacks and murders occur,” explained former lobbyist Harry Schultz to the Globe on Tuesday. “If you recall, in November and December of 2021, the Bay Area had a bunch of high profile robberies, like the Union Square robberies and the flashmob robbery at a San Jose mall. Incidents both in and outside of San Francisco that was blamed on then-DA Chesa Boudin’s policies. And then helped get him recalled.”

“This string may be Gascon’s version of that. Or, sadly, may be a lead up to that. Because, just like those, even the ones outside the city are being tied to the DA due to their influence.”

Others also noted that the crimes would help likely help spur more voters to vote against Gascon and others who have similar progressive crime attitudes in upcoming election

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

String of California 7-Eleven Shootings Leave 2 Dead, 3 Hurt

Two people were killed and three wounded in robberies before dawn Monday at six 7-Eleven stores in Southern California and authorities said they were seeking the same lone gunman in at least three of the crimes.

The string of violence occurred within a timespan of about five hours on July 11, or 7/11, the day when the national 7-Eleven brand celebrates its anniversary. This is its 95th year and on Monday stores gave out free Slurpee drinks.

It wasn’t immediately clear to investigators what prompted the violence in the cities of Ontario, Upland, Riverside, Santa Ana, Brea and La Habra.

“I think the only person to answer that would be the suspect,” said Officer Ryan Railsback, a spokesperson for the Riverside Police Department.

But he said the date was no accident.

“There’s no way it can be a coincidence of it being 7-Eleven, July 11,” Railsback said.

7-Eleven Inc. issued a statement saying it was gathering information and working with police. “Our hearts are with the victims and their loved ones,” the statement said.

The first robbery happened at about midnight in Ontario, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) east of Los Angeles.

The masked man brandished a handgun at the store’s employee and demanded money, according to Ontario Cpl. Emily Hernandez. He did not fire any shots and the clerk was not injured. It was not immediately clear to investigators what, if anything, was stolen.

The second robbery happened about 45 minutes later in Upland, less than 5 miles (8 kilometers) away from the Ontario store.

The suspect approached the store clerk with a few items, “some drinks and things,” and brandished a semi-automatic handgun, Upland Sgt. Jake Kirk said. The man stole the items and about $400 to $500 in cash and fled. No shots were fired.

Surveillance photos, released by Upland and Brea police, show a masked man wearing a black sweatshirt with a hood over his head. The sweatshirt had white lettering with green leaves on the front.

While police in La Habra, Brea and Santa Ana have said they believe they are seeking the same suspect, officials in Ontario, Upland and Riverside have not yet made that determination though they said they were aware of the other crimes at 7-Eleven stores.

“It could potentially be the same person but we’re not confirming that at this time,” Kirk said.

About an hour after the Upland robbery and 25 miles (40 kilometers) away in Riverside, a gunman brandished a gun and robbed the 7-Eleven clerk, then turned the weapon on a customer, opened fire and fled, Railsback said. Police believe the clerk handed over cash from the register. The shooting victim was in grave condition.

“It doesn’t appear to be any reason that the suspect shot the customer,” Railsback said. “It sounds like the clerk gave him whatever he asked for.”

Railsback said criminals typically know that robberies at convenience stores rarely yield large amounts of money, especially during the overnight hours.

“If you go hit a liquor store or a 7-Eleven or a fast food place, you’re not going to get a lot of cash out of it,” he said. “It’s kind of odd that they would do this.”

Another shooting occurred around 3:20 a.m., about 24 miles (39 kilometers) away, in Santa Ana, authorities said.

Officers responding there reported gunfire and found a man dead in the 7-Eleven parking lot with a gunshot wound to his upper torso, according to Santa Ana Sgt. Maria Lopez.

Click here to read the full article in AP News

Some Observations on Our New SCOTUS Justice, Ketanji Jackson

A few days ago, Justice Ketanji Jackson was sworn in as the first black female on the Supreme Court.  Yes, she should be congratulated, and she was, and still is.  However, I have some timely issues and grievances I think must be discussed as well.  May I offer these “6 theses,” so to speak? 

Unless one is living under a rock, regarding politics the past 3 years, it is nearly impossible to escape the meme of, “We need more people of COLOR, as well as more WOMEN…in Congress, on SCOTUS, everywhere.  Now, with Justice Clarence Thomas (regardless of politics) the High Court absolutely gained a very accomplished and very intelligent so-called “person of color.”  Did the far-left  (aka, the “woke”) celebrate that?  No. —  Why?  Because although Justice Thomas was the right “color,” he was the wrong kind of “person of color.” Simply put, he did not think as highly educated black people are “supposed” to think, which is through an ever progressive-leaning lens.

A couple years ago, we finally received another woman, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, to  SCOTUS.  Again, did progressives generally celebrate that as progress, a celebration of womanhood?  No way!  She was a woman (more on that later), but sadly, not a “woke” woman. She was the wrong kind of woman.  Period.  So, how to object to her?  Tear HER down! — I’ve noticed it’s been quite engrained in some on the far-left that it’s OK to “hate” certain folks NOW, if those folks, in theory…will contribute to “greater hate” in the FUTURE, or something like that.

Let’s discus Justice Ketanji Jackson further. Is she accomplished? Yes. I will not debate that; i can’t. She is indeed accomplished and has proven her knowledge of law.  That said, does it not seem some left-leaning pundits have, at times, fawned over her as being almost the apex of intelligence?  Full stop.  Yet, when it came to recognizing the equal “brilliance” of Justice Barrett, as a highly respected woman, nope, not much to see there.  Don’t believe me?  Well, view CNN reruns.

Respectfully, here’s a huge issue I’ve with Justice Jackson:  She was soft on online “pedo-porn” traders/transferers/sellers.  Some of the content, sadly included pre-pubescent children. This is bad.  But the mainstream media countered, opining this issue was just the right “bullying” Mrs. Jackson.  How dare they??  If that had been a conservative judge in the hot seat, I do not think he/she would have been treated with such tiny kid gloves!

Here’s something about Justice Barrett worth knowing: The Girl Scout Administration (GSA) originally included Justice Barrett as one of the accomplished US women for Women’s Day a couple years back. (Good for her!) Then, because of the outrage of some (not all) of the our progressive friends, with so much contempt for her as being the a “conservative” woman, the GSA actually took her off their list!  These current times are truly a crossroads of intersecting values. 

Last, but not least, when calmly asked what a woman was at her hearing, Ketanji Jackson seemed stunned at first, then said, with uncomfortably shy honesty, “I’m not a biologist.” (By the way, this got me thinking, even if she were a biologist, would she have answered? I doubt it.)  Anyway, even if the definition of a woman has gotten so “muddied up,” partly because of the trans movement (definition of “woman” has gotten lost in “trans-lation,” pun intended), I still DEMAND a better answer from a future justice on our Supreme Court.  Should not we all?  Furthermore, if she claims the high authority to decide important SCOTUS cases concerning women’s issues/rights, how can she, in good faith, be trusted to decide such cases, until she can offer a definition of what a woman is??  In other words, if I said I’d be faithfully deciding cases on the rights for “xyz people,” then I was asked, “Just who are ‘xyz’ people for which you will be making decisions…” and I replied, “Um, I can not answer that,” I don’t think the average person’s knee-jerk response would be, “Yep, I want that guy!”  As a final footnote here, the mainstream media afforded us zero favors by minimizing this too, as once again, unfair bullying of a “woman” of color, by the nasty right.  May God help our country.

How Did California Schools Spend Billions in COVID Aid?

Imagine your boss giving you a check equal to four months salary and telling you to spend it quickly or risk giving it back. That in essence is what leaders in Sacramento and Washington did for California schools after the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly shutdown classrooms.

The result was a series of stimulus measures that allocated $33.5 billion in state and federal funds, a staggering amount of one-time funding for the state’s cash-strapped schools, equal to a third of all the money they got the year before the pandemic.

So how did they spend it? Billions have gone to things like laptops, air filters and mental health counselors – money to help kids. But much of the funding has come with limited oversight and little transparency, according to an investigation by CalMatters, a nonprofit news organization.

Of the $5.9 billion local education agencies have spent so far from the largest of the stimulus funds, more than a quarter went to a category for “other” expenses, according to the state.

“I’m just not sure anyone has a good handle on how this money was spent,” said John Affeldt, managing attorney at Public Advocates who works on educational equity issues.

CalMatters spent three months examining school COVID relief spending across the state, reviewing thousands of pages of records obtained through more than 45 public records requests.

The records offer a unique glimpse at how school leaders grappled with the generational challenge of COVID in dollars and cents. In the East Bay, for example, Castro Valley Unified spent most of its stimulus money on payroll. On the Peninsula, Burlingame schools spent more than $300,000 on Chromebooks. In Southern California, El Centro Elementary School District spent $3.8 million to install shade structures for outdoor eating, school assemblies and teaching space, and Long Beach Unified spent nearly $13,000 on music recorders.

The records also reveal the other pandemic winners – companies that reaped millions as overwhelmed districts, suddenly flush with cash, started writing checks.

Some are established firms well-positioned to fill massive orders for goods. Others are new ventures launched by savvy entrepreneurs to capture some of the windfall, including a limited liability company headquartered out of a UPS drop box that got a $52 million no-bid COVID testing contract in San Diego.

One chain of virtual charter schools gave $11 million – nearly two-thirds of its stimulus spending last year – to the publicly traded, for-profit company affiliated with the schools. And a Southern California public school district spent $440,000 to hire an evangelical group for a program to help at-risk kids.

Other records reveal clear mistakes or misspending. The state told West Contra Costa Unified School District to shift nearly $800,000 in unrestricted funds to reimburse its stimulus money because the district failed to prove certain payroll costs were tied to the pandemic. Oakland Unified had to reimburse nearly $1 million in stimulus money it apparently misspent on things like commercial trucks and a communication system, records show.

Some districts refused to provide CalMatters records showing where their money is going. That includes San Francisco Unified, which got more than $186 million in federal stimulus funds.

And local educational agencies still have billions of dollars of COVID relief left to spend. If they don’t spend it by various deadlines, they may have to return it.

In a written statement to CalMatters, the state Department of Education said it is “encouraged by the impact that stimulus funding is having on the students and schools of California,” and that overseeing the funds is a top priority.

“The department has a robust monitoring system to ensure that (agencies’) expenditures are in accordance with all applicable federal and state requirements,” according to the statement.

Still, it might not be enough. The state auditor’s office criticized oversight in an October report, saying the state is not using the limited data it receives to identify abnormal spending patterns and scrutinize local educational agencies.

“The state Department of Education has not taken a very active role in managing how the money is being spent,” said Kris Patel, supervising auditor who led the team behind the October report.

Money, money, money

Ultimately, California public schools and charters got almost $29 billion in federal stimulus money. Billions more came from state programs lawmakers in Sacramento created.

To get a cross-section of the stimulus spending, CalMatters asked more than 30 school districts for their accounting ledgers. Those districts included the 20 biggest and 10 random agencies across a geographically and demographically diverse swath of the state.

Castro Valley Unified spent $263,000 in stimulus funds on Freedom Soul Media Education Initiatives, an equity consultant, and $93,000 on restorative justice consultants, records show. Santa Ana Unified gave $393,000 to Angels Baseball LP to rent out the major league baseball stadium for last year’s high school graduation festivities.

“There’s a district in the Central Coast area that bought an ice cream truck with their money” to give away ice cream to kids stuck at home during the early days of the pandemic, said Michael Fine, chief executive officer of the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, a state-created organization that helps fiscally troubled school districts get their finances in order. “When I was told that I kind of went off.”

One common area of spending was technology. Some districts spent heavily on laptops, hot spots and other hardware, as well as computer programs and support in order to make the switch to virtual schooling when buildings shut down.

Some educators and advocates question the amount of high-tech spending.

“Consulting companies and education service providers have been really aggressive in reaching out to districts to use these funds for new programs that they’re now creating to serve students,” said Amir Whitaker, senior policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

Pandemic winners

It wasn’t just technology companies that reaped massive paydays from districts flush with stimulus cash. Personal protective equipment vendors and businesses selling indoor air quality products got lots of deals. Firms touting COVID testing-related services also were in high demand.

In September 2021, San Diego Unified’s board ratified a no-bid contract with a firm called Responsive Partners LLC – which formed during the pandemic in April 2020 and lists a UPS drop box in Orange County as its address – to run a COVID testing program. The district amended the contract a few months later and the agreement – which runs through July 30 – is now worth up to $52 million.

The board ratified the initial agreement at a September board meeting with no discussion, a video of the meeting shows. The board approved the amended agreement in January, again, with no public discussion.

School officials say the contract was worth it for a district that’s had a particularly aggressive testing strategy to keep schools open – offering far more tests and testing sites than many other districts.

Curious spending but little oversight

The California Virtual Academies, a chain of nine charter schools across the state, were probably better positioned than most to weather the pandemic. They didn’t need to worry about social distancing or need to suddenly figure out how to teach remotely. That’s because they were already teaching students exclusively online.

So how did the virtual academies use the $18 million in COVID relief money they spent last year? Nearly two-thirds of it – $11 million – went to K12 Management Inc., a subsidiary of the publicly traded corporation that helps run the schools, according to records the schools provided to CalMatters in response to a records request. And while some of that money is listed as going to pay for computers and peripheral equipment for students, $8.6 million went to “student course materials” or “online curriculum” straight from the corporation, the records show.

The charters and their relationship to the parent corporation – Stride Inc., which was formerly known as K12 Inc. – have been the source of past legal problems. In 2016, following an investigation by the Bay Area News Group, the state attorney general’s office announced a $168.5 million settlement with K12 Inc. over allegations the company and schools misled parents to boost enrollment and inflated attendance numbers.

CalMatters spoke to several current or former staff at the virtual academies who worked during the pandemic. They said teachers and counselors were overwhelmed as enrollment grew and questioned why so much money went to the corporation.

In an email, the company told CalMatters that the state didn’t provide additional funding to cover the increased enrollment and that the corporation provides online curriculum, education materials, a learning management system and “a wealth of other items” for students and teachers.

Most districts and schools are facing little scrutiny for their pandemic spending decisions, outside local administrative offices and boardrooms. Last fiscal year, the state Education Department reviewed stimulus spending at 15 local educational agencies – less than a percent of the roughly 1,700 agencies that got stimulus funds. This year the department is reviewing 50.

Those reviews turned up numerous red flags, ranging from poor recordkeeping to outdated conflict-of-interest policies to outright misspending.

Hayward Unified, dinged by state monitors over stimulus spending in a review last year – has been able to resolve most of its findings without losing money. State reviewers identified six issues at the school in fiscal year 2020-21.

Still, it’s taken a long time for the district to prove to the state it didn’t mishandle money. Districts are supposed to resolve findings within 45 days. As of this month, it’s been more than a year, and one finding remains outstanding.

Hayward’s assistant superintendent of Business Services, Allan Garde, wrote in an email to CalMatters that the district has been busy trying to keep schools open and running, and expected to resolve the last of the outstanding issues by the end of this month.

The slow pace of resolution hints at the limits of state authority.

Click here to read the full article in the Mercury News

Proposition 1 Will Constitutionally Protect Abortion Up Until the Moment of Birth

In November, you’ll be asked if you want to dramatically change California’s abortion laws to allow a baby to be aborted right up until the minute before that baby is born.

Right now, a woman can have an abortion in California up to the point where the baby can survive outside the womb or is “viable.”  Viability has been the standard for decades.

Based on polling, it is likely most Californians are comfortable with that viability standard. But legislative Democrats are testing how far voters are willing to go to allow legal abortions up to a baby’s due date.

That’s what will be on the ballot this November in California with Proposition 1.

How did we get here?

Much has been said about the recent 6-3 decision by the Supreme Court of the United States in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that reversed previous court rulings and found that there was not a federal constitutional right to have an abortion. The court ultimately concluded: “Abortion presents a profound moral question. The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each State from regulating or prohibiting abortion.” With that decision, determining public policy around the issue of abortion has been returned to each of the 50 states.

State responses — like the people who live in them — are wide, varied and diverse. According to a Gallup Organization survey of the opinions of Americans on the issue taken in late May of 2022, 35% said abortion should be legal under all circumstances, 18% said legal under most circumstances, 32% said legal only in a few circumstances and 13% said all abortions should be illegal.

In other words, fully half of Americans chart a middle course on this issue. On the football field of politics, most Americans find themselves between the 35-yard lines.

California’s approach, though, puts us next to the progressive goal line. As a practical matter, the decision in Dobbs and the overturning of Roe v. Wade has no effect on abortion rights in California. Up until viability (generally regarded as 24 weeks into a 40-week pregnancy), women can obtain abortions for any reason. The state subsidizes the procedure and has passed laws encouraging “abortion tourism.”

But the modest restriction precluding abortion after viability (unless done for the health of the mother) would be eliminated if voters pass a constitutional amendment that has been placed before us by the Democrat-controlled state Legislature.

Proposition 1 on the California ballot would place these words into the state constitution: “The state shall not deny or interfere with an individual’s reproductive freedom in their most intimate decisions, which includes their fundamental right to choose to have an abortion and their fundamental right to choose or refuse contraceptives.”

With the passage of this amendment, abortion in California would become legal until the moment of birth. The explicit language in this amendment could not be clearer and provides no exceptions or restrictions on a right to an abortion. This is the most extreme position that could be taken on this issue.

Why is Proposition 1 even on the ballot? It represents a convergence of two interests. Pro-abortion extremists want to not only ensure abortion is legal in California until birth, while guaranteeing that at no time in the future can laws on abortion access be reduced. Progressives would also like to shift the debate away from issues like cost of living, high gas prices or rising crime ahead of the election.

Read the entire article in the OC Register

Supreme Court’s School Choice Decision Opens the Floodgates, but Some States Ignore

Blue states like California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York have failed to recognize the school choice celebrations’

California’s public schools were once the envy of the nation. Today, California’s public schools not only rank at the bottom of the entire country, the state spends approximately $22,000 per year for each child in the public school system to accomplish this.

California has approximately 6.6 Million K-12 Students: 6 million attending public schools, 471,000 attending private schools, and 84,000 attending homeschool, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. The state has 942 school districts operating 8,600 individual schools and enrolling approximately 5.3 million students.

California is ripe for public school reforms, but state and local government and big teacher’s unions are preventing students from receiving a quality education. And it’s not from a lack of demand.

“The freedom of parents to choose the best education for their children has just expanded thanks to a recent Supreme Court decision,” write Lance Izumi, Senior Director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute, and McKenzie Richards, a policy associate at PRI.

The published June decision by the Court in Carson v. Makin, ruled that the state of Maine could not prevent David and Amy Carson, Troy and Angela Nelson, and other similarly situated families from using otherwise generally available tuition assistance benefits at religious (or “sectarian”) schools simply because those schools provided religious instruction, the Heritage Foundation reported.

The two families challenged Maine’s decision to discriminate against religious schools as part of the state’s system of providing tuition assistance to families who lived in areas not served by a public school.

In the 6-3 opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court ruled that Maine violated the free exercise of religion clause found in the First Amendment.

Only two days ago, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed the most expansive school choice legislation in the nation into law, “ensuring kids and families in every corner of Arizona can access the education that best fits their needs,” the Governor’s office announced.

H.B. 2853, sponsored by Rep. Ben Toma, ensures all Arizona K-12 students will now be eligible for scholarship funds to access the education that best fits their unique needs.

Arizona families will receive more than $6,500 per year per child for private school, homeschooling, micro schools, tutoring, or any other kinds of educational service.

But as Izumi and Richards explain, California and other states, do not currently allow government funding to follow the child to a private school, either secular or religious.

“The Carson ruling, in conjunction with previous Supreme Court rulings, will increase the learning options from which parents may choose for their children,” they explain. “In states that have school choice tools, such as government-funded education savings accounts for children, parents may now select from the entire spectrum of private schools, including those that are religious in nature and practice.”

The Heritage Foundation drilled down on the SCOTUS decision:

“When private individuals use taxpayer funding to choose a religious K-12 school for their children, those individuals are not using public money to establish a religion.

The Supreme Court noted that the state’s interest in not establishing religion and maintaining government neutrality on religion doesn’t justify cutting out parents who want to exercise their religious beliefs by sending their children to schools that provide religious instruction.

Maine chose to operate a tuition assistance program, but explicitly left religious schools out of the program.

…the court made it abundantly clear that picking and choosing who receives public benefits that are otherwise available to all, based on whether they are religious or want to use that benefit in a religious way, offends the First Amendment.

Now the Supreme Court has put the ‘status versus use’ distinction to rest and simultaneously ruled that your beliefs and values matter.”

Former State Senator Gloria Romero, a long time school choice advocate, said in a January California Globe op ed, “blue states like California, Illinois, New Jersey and New York have failed to recognize the school choice celebrations, too-beholden to teachers’ unions which play an outsized role in elections and the delivery of zip-code educational policies in their states.”

“Nonetheless, the fight for school choice continues to grow, with multiple state legislatures seeking ways to revise funding formulas to not only support greater access to charter schools and homeschooling options, but to provide educational savings accounts for parents to choose the best option for their child.”

Romero said rather than funding “the system,” there is a noticeable push to fund “the child,” enabling money to go with the student to the school of their choice.

“Going forward, it will be up to proponents of school choice to ensure that lawmakers allow families to make those crucial decisions to the full extent laid out by the Supreme Court, thus transforming legal theory into a practical reality,” Izumi and Richards said.

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe