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California Public Education - School Oversite

The people and groups who set education policies, establish regulations, and manage school operations are many in number and diverse in perspective.

The Legislature and governor form a powerful policy group through their control of the state budget and legislative process. The State Superintendent of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education form another layer. State and federal courts mandate some policies, while the actions of the county superintendents of schools and their boards also affect school districts. Local school boards—along with district superintendents—set local education policy and see that state and federal requirements are carried out. School principals and parent-staff groups such as school site councils also exercise policy authority. Finally, employee unions through their collective bargaining agreements form another layer of authority and influence. Yet all of them serve — and are ultimately accountable to — the parents and other taxpayers that make it possible for public education to exist.

The federal government’s role is growing

The federal government exercises limited control over K–12 education through funding for categorical programs, some of which are required by federal law or court decisions.

But in 2003, Congress passed the “No Child Left Behind” legislation, which has substantially increased federal influence over state policy and local school operations.

State government has a great deal of power in California

The state government in California has control over education funding, giving it more power over education than is true in most other states. The governor prepares and submits the annual budget, which must then be approved by the Legislature. Laws that influence every facet of school operations are written by our state Assembly and Senate, although the governor may propose new laws and ask legislators to "carry" bills through the Legislature. The governor approves or vetoes bills submitted by the Legislature. In addition, the State Board of Education (SBE) and Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) influence policy.

The SBE, appointed by the governor with the approval of the state Senate, is the governing body for the California Department of Education (CDE). The SBE is responsible for approving curriculum frameworks, textbooks, statewide assessments, and standards for student performance. It acts as a court of appeals for various local decisions and approves regulations drafted by the SPI to implement new laws.

Voters elect the SPI, who administers the day-to-day operation of the CDE under the policies of the SBE. The CDE’s work includes administering and enforcing state education laws; advising school districts on legal, financial, and program matters; and collecting, analyzing, and disseminating financial, demographic, and other data about public education.

The Office of the Secretary for Education is responsible for advising and making policy recommendations to the Governor on education issues.

Elected school boards are the primary local governance organizations

California law mandates that every district have a publicly elected governing board, which is responsible for governing and managing local schools within the limits of state and federal law. Together with the school district administration, the school board is responsible for many fiscal, personnel, instructional, and student-related policies, such as adopting the budget and negotiating with employee unions. The board hires and fires the superintendent.

The role of school sites depends in part on the district

The general trend is toward having individual schools make more decisions—such as budgeting or developing special programs—through school site councils or other parent-staff groups. But the level of responsibility is largely determined by the school district.

Principals as the local site leaders are responsible for improving the academic achievement of all their students, developing a school culture that has a shared vision and inspires learning, and managing operations efficiently.

County offices of education differ in the roles they play

All county offices of education (COEs) are operated by a superintendent and board, but the method for selecting the members of the governance team varies by county. COEs also differ in the role they play and the services they offer based partly on local practice and partly on the size of the county and its school districts. They generally play a bigger role in smaller districts. COE services can include implementing some mandated statewide programs such as court schools for juvenile offenders, providing some Special Education programs, and reviewing school district budgets.

Read what the Alameda County reported what their findings on Alameda County Office of Education's fiscal oversight of county school districts.

Employee unions represent teachers and staff in most districts

The California Government Code gives teachers and most other school employees the right to be represented by a union and to engage in collective bargaining on matters related to working conditions and compensation. In all but a few school districts, teachers and most other nonmanagement employees belong to a union and engage in collective bargaining with the school district. In a few school districts, administrators also join unions. With more than 80% of school district expenditures for employee compensation, the collective bargaining process can play a big role through negotiations related to salaries, benefits, and working conditions such as the school calendar and teacher assignments.



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Last modified: February 12, 2004

Disclaimer: This website is the sole responsibility of Mike McMahon. It does not represent any official opinions, statement of facts or positions of the Alameda Unified School District. Its sole purpose is to disseminate information to interested individuals in the Alameda community.