Schwarzenegger signs major school reform package |

Schwarzenegger signs major school reform package

Associated Press Writer

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed sweeping education reform bills Thursday designed to empower parents and let California compete for up to $700 million in federal money.

Among other changes, the reforms will link teacher evaluations to student performance and allow parents with children in the worst-performing schools to send them elsewhere.

In addition, local school governing boards will be allowed to close failing schools, convert them to charter schools or fire the principal and half the staff.

Many of the steps were opposed by teachers unions and other education groups.

Schwarzenegger praised the two bills as landmark reforms that once seemed politically impossible.

“We overcame divisions and put children first,” Schwarzenegger said before he signed the bills into law at a Los Angeles middle school. “Before, there were these exit door chains where children couldn’t get out. … Now the chain is broken and the children are free.”

The 6 million students in California represent the nation’s largest public school system.

The new laws will let the state compete for a share of $4.3 billion in federal education grants. The state must move quickly to submit its application because the first federal deadline is less than two weeks away.

This legislation is “going to help to make sure our parents can participate,” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said at the signing ceremony. “It’s going to hold the whole school community accountable.”

The Legislature sent the bills to Schwarzenegger on Wednesday over the objections of opponents who said California is haphazardly altering its education system with no guarantee it will get any federal money.

The governor signed the bills before two assembled history classes at Mary McLeod Bethune Middle School in Los Angeles. The school was chosen because it provides a quality education and can be a model for others, he said.