SACRAMENTO - The state Senate is planning what may be an unprecedented field trip: All its members are heading to Southern California next week to view career education programs that proponents say should be the model throughout California.
At least 31 of the 37 senators confirmed they will travel to Long Beach for what Senate leaders are calling a two-day Policy Conference on Education. The trip will cost taxpayers at least $27,000 in travel and lodging for the senators and 15 aides, including some security staff, the Senate disclosed Thursday.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said it was his idea to take senators to visit Cabrillo High School and Long Beach City College on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Long Beach Unified, the state's third-largest school district, is considered a leader in what is known as "linked learning," in which academic and technical classes are designed to lead students from K-12 through college and into an occupation. More than 1,200 businesses, agencies and organizations have formed education partnerships with the district's schools.
Steinberg called it a "good expense of public dollars" to educate senators about linked learning.
"This is the key, in my view, to reducing our unacceptable dropout rate. This is the key to creating a real connection between a public education and our workforce," he said.
Steinberg spokesman Mark Hedlund said that as far as anyone in the Senate knows, no similar conference involving the entire Senate has ever been held outside Sacramento.
Even fiscally conservative Republicans are on board with the trip.
"This is a prime opportunity for senators to get out of the Capitol and experience a day in the life of California high school and community college students," said Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar.
Aside from career education programs, senators will hear presentations on changing state curriculum standards and performance testing, as well as on Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to change the way schools receive state funding.
The conference will be open to the media and public as required by law, Steinberg said, though the goal is to educate senators.
Phillip Ung, a spokesman for California Common Cause, said his watchdog organization had no objection so long as the public is allowed to attend. However, he acknowledged, "I think there are some voters who will have a question about the price tag and what it is that money is paying for."