A quality education is the single best tool to prepare children for their future, which is why I am proud to have authored AB 2337, signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom. AB 2337 ensures California’s smallest, rural school districts receive proper recognition as “frontier school districts” in our state’s education code. Defining frontier school districts, in alignment with federal grant requirements, as having an annual average daily attendance of less than 600 students and being located in a county with a population of less than 10 people per square mile.
While California’s diversity has allowed this state to flourish across many playing fields, our education system has, until now, followed a one-size-fits-all approach to education which failed to recognize the unique nature and structure of frontier school districts across the state.
The First Assembly District looks different geographically from other regions of the state, and that difference comes with varying school needs as well. Frontier schools play a large role in what makes our Assembly District so distinct from others. About 350 California districts, or 34%, would qualify as a “frontier school district.” In the First Assembly District, Nevada County alone has three school districts which qualify for “frontier” status: Chicago Park, Clear Creek, and Twin Ridges. Rural students account for a large and growing segment of our state’s school population, and their specific needs have often been overlooked in school improvement efforts.
As a former school board member of the Big Valley Joint Unified School Board, I have witnessed firsthand the challenges frontier districts are presented with. Among these challenges are low student enrollment, unrealistic state regulations, inadequate financial resources, multi-grade classrooms, long bus routes, housing shortages which impact staff, difficulty recruiting qualified teachers, classified staff, and a scarcity of substitutes. The lack of infrastructure and recognition of frontier schools limits California’s students from receiving the quality education they deserve, and demonstrates many academic discrepancies which can be explained by insufficient funding. Each school district has a better understanding of their community’s needs, more so than legislators in Sacramento do. What works for a student in our district may not work for a student in Los Angeles.
Policymakers have made a good first step by signing this legislation into law, taking a stand to make rural education a priority in California. Recognizing the definition of frontier districts allows schools with similar size structures to work on an even playing field and allows California’s educational system to succeed. AB 2337 will encourage a differentiated approach when adopting policies affecting our schools. Ultimately, it will allow California’s smallest schools to receive opportunities for more equitable funding. This means higher quality educational opportunities for all students no matter where they call home.