Political Notes: Budget issues could again upend CA LGBTQ teacher training bill

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday May 4, 2023
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Assemblymember Rick Chavez Zbur is optimistic that his teacher training bill will pass, but finding the funding may be an issue. Photo: Courtesy Rick Chavez Zbur
Assemblymember Rick Chavez Zbur is optimistic that his teacher training bill will pass, but finding the funding may be an issue. Photo: Courtesy Rick Chavez Zbur

A bill requiring California teachers receive LGBTQ cultural competency training is once again running into fiscal concerns in light of the state's growing budget deficit. Meanwhile, the expected completion date for the online-based trainings has been pushed back by a year.

Shortly after being sworn in last December freshman gay Assemblymember Rick Chavez Zbur (D-West Hollywood) introduced Assembly Bill 5, the Safe and Supportive Schools Act. It would mandate that teachers and credentialed staff who serve public school pupils in grades seven to 12 take an online training course in LGBTQ cultural competency when it goes live in two years.

The California Department of Education is working with the Los Angeles County Office of Education on developing the training. It is expected to cover over the course of six one-hour courses how school employees can support LGBTQ+ students who face bullying, harassment, discrimination, or lack of acceptance at home or school.

Late last year the state agency had told the Bay Area Reporter it intended to debut the online training in conjunction with Pride Month in June 2024. But it has since sought an extension until June 30, 2025 "due to delays in establishing the necessary contracts," according to a legislative analysis done on Zbur's bill ahead of it being heard in committee in April.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond had worked with gay Democratic former Assemblymember Todd Gloria, now the mayor of San Diego, in 2019 to pass AB 493, also known as the Safe and Supportive Schools Act, that called for the creation of the training. The state agency announced in March that Los Angeles education officials were collaborating with lead partner agency the Equality California Institute and an advisory committee composed of 20 nonprofit organizations, including the Trevor Project and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, to develop the training course.

The project is being called PRISM: Providing Relevant, Inclusive Support That Matters for LGBTQ+ Students.

"Many LGBTQ+ students — for too long — have failed to report issues of harassment and violence. This is unacceptable; it is vital we create the same opportunities for a quality public education in an environment that accepts all students for who they are," stated Thurmond earlier this year.

Funding is a stumbling block

Fiscal issues have long shadowed the legislative effort to create the LGBTQ training sessions for teachers. The first bill calling for the training, which Thurmond had authored in 2018 when he served in the Assembly, fell to the veto pen of then-governor Jerry Brown due to its cost.

When Governor Gavin Newsom succeeded Brown in office the following year, he signed into law the reintroduced legislation but without the inclusion of any funding to pay for it. In 2021, Newsom allocated $2.4 million to build out the online course.

Because AB 493 didn't include a mandate that teachers and school staff take the training, Zbur authored AB 5 to ensure that the previous bill "is not sitting on the shelf" somewhere in Sacramento, he explained to the B.A.R. last year.

As the former executive director for the statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality California, Zbur had pressed for the passage of the previous bills authored by Gloria and Thurmond. His AB 5 passed out of the Assembly Education Committee on a 6-0 vote in late April and is now awaiting a vote by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

But the length of the required training sessions and how often they must be taken have been changed from when Zbur introduced it last year. Initially, AB 5 had required four hours of LGBTQ cultural competency training be taken by middle and high school teachers and certified staff every three years.

Last month, in response to feedback about the length of such training, Zbur agreed to change the bill so it mandates one hour of training annually for the covered school employees.

"It is pretty close to what we wanted," Zbur recently told the B.A.R. "The curriculum the state education department is preparing has training modules in one-hour modules, so we were fine with it."

The bill would institute the training requirements at the start of the 2025-26 academic year. It would sunset them at the completion of the 2029-30 school year.

The analysis of the bill as initially written by Zbur had flagged that the Office of Legislative Counsel keyed the bill "as a possible state-mandated local program," meaning it could come with a cost to implement. But it did not specify what the bill's fiscal impact could end up being.

With projections that California would be confronting a budget deficit in 2023, Newsom vetoed a number of bills last year due to their costs, including one focused on LGBTQ health services. Earlier this year the state estimated the budget deficit at $22.5 billion, and the figure is expected to be higher when Newsom unveils his revised fiscal year 2023-24 budget proposal this month.

The state's worsening financial outlook has clouded the prospects for getting AB 5 adopted this year, acknowledged Zbur. Nonetheless, he expressed confidence it would pass out of the Legislature in a recent interview with the B.A.R.

"The big question is if we will get it through appropriations," said Zbur. "People assume it is going to get through. I think there is strong support in both the Assembly and Senate for it."

Should both chambers pass it later this summer, it remains to be seen if the bill will survive Newsom's veto pen once it hits his desk.

UPDATED 5/8/2023 to correct how much was allocated to create the training per the legislative analysis report for Zbur's bill.

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