Education Budget Trailer Bill – Independent Study Changes, July 5, 2021

The long-awaited TK-Grade 12 Education Budget Trailer Bill was released today, providing needed details in several key areas. The bill (AB/SB 130) is an abrupt holiday weekend stopper, weighing in at 398 pages. 
The trailer bill works in conjunction with AB 128 (Ting) and SB 129 (Skinner) to appropriate Proposition 98 funding, among other funds, for various education programs. The bill authorizes funding for Universal Transitional Kindergarten, the Expanded Learning Opportunities program, Special Education, Preschool, the Educator Effectiveness Block Grant, expands school nutrition programs and the California Community Schools Partnership Program, and various educator programs, and amends Independent Study law. 
The trailer bill also pays-off the total amount ($11 billion) of Proposition 98 payment deferrals enacted during the 2019-20 budget. It also makes a significant change to the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) by increasing the value of the concentration grant add-on adjustment from fifty percent to sixty-five percent of the base grant. This new additional funding that is in excess of fifty percent shall specifically be used to increase school site staffing, including custodial staff.
Our team is busy analyzing the trailer bill in order to provide you with an analysis of some of the most impactful provisions. We’ll send those updates later today and tomorrow as they’re completed. However, we want to start with the changes to Independent Study, as they are arguably the most urgent. 
We'll provide a more comprehensive review and analysis of the entire state budget as it relates to TK-Grade 12 education finance in our Budget Perspectives workshops next week. The no-cost workshops are presented in collaboration with county superintendents, ACSA, CSBA, SSDA, and Climatec. You can register for the workshops here
Some of the most significant changes to school operations arrive with the changes to Independent Study. These changes come despite intense lobbying from a united front of education interests that included labor, management, and charter school advocates. While this language incorporates some of the changes that group advocated for, many implementation issues remain. 
These changes will take effect immediately upon signature of the Governor and will require all school agencies to revise their adopted (or adopt new) board policies for Independent Study to incorporate the changes in law. It will also force a rewrite of any existing written agreements within 30 days of the start of instruction to conform with the new board policies. Should instruction begin before policies and agreements are revised, schools must still comply with the new requirements, which will be subject to new auditing procedures. 
Following is a summary of the major changes to Independent Study: 
Independent Study is required for 2021-22 school year (but not for charter schools). For the 2021-22 school year only, school districts and county offices of education (COEs) are required to offer Independent Study.  
  • This requirement may be met by contracting with another school district (through an inter-district transfer) or with a COE (not a charter school). 
  • This requirement for school districts may be waived by the county superintendent if they determine that offering IS would create an unreasonable fiscal burden on the district due to low participation or other extenuating circumstances, and the district does not have the option to enter into an inter-district transfer agreement. 
  • This requirement for COEs and single-district counties may be waived by the State Superintendent for the same reasons.  
Requirement to notify parents for 2021-22 school year. For the 2021–22 school year only, school districts and COEs shall notify the parents and guardians of all enrolled pupils of their options to enroll their child in in-person instruction or Independent Study during the 2021–22 school year. This notice shall include written information on the local educational agency’s website, including, but not limited to, the right to request a pupil-parent-educator conference meeting before enrollment, pupil rights regarding procedures for enrolling, disenrolling, and reenrolling in independent study, and the synchronous and asynchronous instructional time that a pupil will have access to as part of independent study. If 15 percent or more of the pupils enrolled in an LEA that provides instruction in transitional kindergarten, kindergarten, or any of grades 1 to 12, inclusive, speak a single primary language other than English, as determined from the census data submitted to the CDE in the preceding year, the written information shall, in addition to being written in English, be written in that primary language. 
These changes will take effect immediately and provide only 30-days to revise board policies and written agreements. For the 2021–22 school year only, an LEA shall obtain a signed written agreement for independent study from the pupil, or the pupil’s parent or legal guardian if the pupil is less than 18 years of age, the certificated employee who has been designated as having responsibility for the general supervision of independent study, and all persons who have direct responsibility for providing assistance to the pupil no later than 30 days after the first day of instruction. This subparagraph does not relieve an LEA from the obligation to comply with the new requirements, upon commencement of instruction for a participating pupil in the 2021–22 school year, even if an updated written agreement has not yet been obtained. 
Requires parent/pupil/teacher conference prior to executing Independent Study written agreement. Before signing a written agreement, and upon the request of the parent or guardian of a pupil, the LEA shall conduct a phone, video conference, or in-person pupil-parent-educator conference or other school meeting during which the pupil, parent or guardian, and, if requested by the pupil or parent, an education advocate, may ask questions about the educational options, including which curriculum offerings and nonacademic supports that will be available to the pupil in independent study, before making the decision about enrollment or disenrollment in the various options for learning.
New definitions. For purposes of Independent Study the following definitions will now apply: 
  • “Live interaction” means interaction between the pupil and LEA classified or certificated staff, and may include peers, provided for the purpose of maintaining school connectedness, including, but not limited to, wellness checks, progress monitoring, provision of services, and instruction. This interaction may take place in person, or in the form of internet or telephonic communication. 
  • “Local educational agency” means a school district, county office of education, or charter school. 
  • “Pupil-parent-educator conference” means a meeting involving, at a minimum, all parties who signed the pupil’s written independent study agreement pursuant to subdivision (g) of Section 51747 or the written learning agreement pursuant to subdivision (b) of Section 51749.6. 
  • “Synchronous instruction” means classroom-style instruction or designated small group or one-on-one instruction delivered in person, or in the form of internet or telephonic communications, and involving live two-way communication between the teacher and pupil. Synchronous instruction shall be provided by the teacher of record for that pupil pursuant to Section 51747.5.
Written policies must measure satisfactory educational progress.Independent study written policies must include a description of the level of satisfactory education progress and the number of missed assignments that will be allowed before an evaluation is conducted to determine whether independent study is in the best interests of the pupil. 
“Satisfactory educational progress” shall be determined based on all of the following indicators: 
  • The pupil’s achievement and engagement in the independent study program, as indicated by the pupil’s performance on applicable pupil-level measures of pupil achievement and pupil engagement (assessments, attendance, grad rates, etc.). 
  • The completion of assignments, assessments, or other indicators that evidence that the pupil is working on assignments. 
  • Learning required concepts, as determined by the supervising teacher. 
  • Progressing toward successful completion of the course of study or individual course, as determined by the supervising teacher. 
Available courses. Independent Study programs must provide content aligned to grade level standards at a level of quality and intellectual challenge substantially equivalent to in-person instruction. For high schools, this shall include access to all courses offered by the LEA for graduation and approved by the University of California or the California State University as creditable under the A–G admissions criteria. 
Tiered re-engagement strategies. Written policies must contain procedures for tiered re-engagement strategies for all pupils who are not generating attendance for more than three schooldays or 60 percent of the instructional days in a school week, or who are in violation of the written agreement. These procedures shall include, but are not necessarily limited to, all of the following: 
  1. Verification of current contact information for each enrolled pupil. 
  2. Notification to parents or guardians of lack of participation within one school day of the absence or lack of participation. 
  3. A plan for outreach from the school to determine pupil needs, including connection with health and social services as necessary. 
  4. A clear standard for requiring a pupil-parent-educator conference to review a pupil’s written agreement, and reconsider the Independent Study program’s impact on the pupil’s achievement and well-being, consistent with satisfactory educational progress. 
This does not apply to a pupil enrolled in Independent Study for fewer than 15 days. 
New requirements for student interaction.  
  • For pupils in TK through grade 3, written policies must include a plan to provide opportunities for daily synchronous instruction for all pupils throughout the school year. 
  • For pupils in grades 4 to 8, written policies must include a plan to provide opportunities for both daily live interaction and at least weekly synchronous instruction for all pupils throughout the school year. 
  • For pupils in grades 9 to 12, written policies must include a plan to provide opportunities for at least weekly synchronous instruction for all pupils throughout the school year. 
This does not apply to a pupil enrolled in Independent Study for fewer than 15 days. 
Permit swift transition out of Independent Study. Written policies must include a plan to transition pupils whose families wish to return to in-person instruction from Independent Study expeditiously, and, in no case, later than five instructional days. 
Supports for students. Written policies must include a statement detailing the academic and other supports that will be provided to address the needs of pupils who are not performing at grade level, or need support in other areas, such as English learners, individuals with exceptional needs in order to be consistent with the pupil’s individualized education program or plan, pupils in foster care or experiencing homelessness, and pupils requiring mental health supports. 
Documenting interaction. An LEA shall document each pupil’s participation in live interaction and synchronous instruction each schoolday, in whole or in part, for which Independent Study is provided. A pupil who does not participate in independent study on a schoolday shall be documented as non-participatory for that schoolday. An LEA shall maintain written or computer-based evidence of pupil engagement that includes, but is not limited to, a grade book or summary document that, for each class, lists all assignments, assessments, and associated grades. This will be subject to annual audit.  
Electronic Signature. Written agreements may be signed using an electronic signature that complies with state and federal standards, as determined by the California Department of Education (CDE), that may be a marking that is either computer generated or produced by electronic means and is intended by the signatory to have the same effect as a handwritten signature. The use of an electronic signature shall have the same force and effect as the use of a manual signature if the requirements for digital signatures and their acceptable technology are satisfied. 
Not waivable by the State Board of Education. None of the new provisions are subject to waiver by the state board, State Superintendent, or under any provision of Part 26.8 (commencing with Section 47600). 
New Audit of pupil/teacher ratios. Commencing with the 2021–22 fiscal year Guide for Annual Audits of K–12 Local Education Agencies and State Compliance Reporting, the Controller shall incorporate verification of the pupil/teacher ratios, including fiscal penalties for noncompliance. 
CALPADS data reporting. Commencing with the 2021–22 school year, the CDE shall include a required field in the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System for the collection of the number of pupils participating in Independent Study pursuant to this article for 15 or more schooldays. 
Course-based Independent Study. The budget also makes amendments to course-based Independent Study statutes to align the new requirements described above. 
What’s Next? The Legislature needs to act on the trailer bill and the Governor must signed it before it becomes law. That process will take several days as the bill must sit unamended for 72-hours before a final vote. 
The child care provisions of the budget deal are not yet in print and we are told they will be out in the coming days. This has been a contentious area for the negotiations between Legislative leaders and the Governor. 
Please let us know if we can provide any additional information. 
Hope you had a nice 4th of July weekend. 
Take care, 
Barrett Snider 
Partner | Capitol Advisors Group