California Governor Vetoes Later School Start Times

Governor Jerry Brown was more persuaded by opponents of the bill. What now?

Posted Sep 22, 2018

Pixaby Free Images
Source: Pixaby Free Images

The governor of California had until the end of September 2018 to sign the bill requiring middle and high schools to start later that was passed by the legislature in August, 2018.  The bill is notable as it is the first bill passed by any state legislature mandating a later start time.  But on Thursday, September 20, the governor vetoed the bill.  The national advocacy group Start School Later had asked its members and others to contact Governor Jerry Brown to express their support and urge him to sign the bill.  Opponents of the bill, who had been unsuccessful in blocking it in the legislative vote, must have been more persuasive than advocates of the bill.  In a statement from the governor, Brown  said, “This is a one-size-fits-all approach that is opposed by teachers and school boards. These are the types of decisions best handled in the local community.” It was also noted that some California districts had already moved to later start times, while others have kept early start times, suggesting that decisions were already being made at the local level one way or another.

Brown’s decision is consistent with a view held by many educators that state and federal regulation of schools has too often eroded the ability of schools to be guided by local parents, teachers, and school administrators.  It remains to be seen if California legislators will try again in the next legislative session.  A bill introduced in 2017 failed to pass the legislature and the one that was passed this year had incorporated provisions to exempt rural districts, allowed schools to keep “zero period”, and had a long phase in timeline to allow schools to make the necessary adjustments. 

Efforts to influence local school districts by advocates of later start times will continue, but I don’t know if the California result will discourage efforts to work with legislatures in other states. 

One thought I have expressed in this blog is that a big “natural experiment” is taking place with many districts moving start times later while other districts are not making such changes.  There is the opportunity to see if any changes in important outcomes (academic achievement; attendance & tardiness; school behavior) can be discerned in individual districts by looking at measures before and after changes are made.  There can also be comparisons made between school districts with differing start times on such measures.  Over the next few years these kinds of comparisons will be made at the local level and no doubt by educational researchers.  If strong evidence begins to emerge that districts starting later are outperforming those that start earlier, that evidence will likely cause many more local school boards to see the benefits of later start times.  In the U.S., individual schools and districts are judged and ranked continuously on the basis of performance of their students.  If later start times are seen as another way that successful schools have a competitive edge, more and more school districts will move in that direction.