SACRAMENTO (AP) — The state Senate is embarking on what may be an unprecedented field trip to Southern California next week to view career education programs that proponents say should be the model throughout California.
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. But even fiscally conservative Republicans don't seem to be objecting and plan to attend.
As of Thursday, at least 31 of the current 37 senators confirmed that they will travel to Long Beach for what the Senate is calling a two-day Policy Conference on Education.
Democratic Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, of Sacramento, said it was his idea to bring senators to visit Cabrillo High School and Long Beach City College on Tuesday and Wednesday.
"Education is such a major part of our responsibility and our agenda that I felt it would be of great benefit to the Senate and to the people we represent to actually do our summit on-site at a high school and in a school district that is seen as a state and national model for reform," Steinberg said.
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.
"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," Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said in a statement announcing the trip.
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 of Sacramento.
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.
"I will completely stand behind ... this being not only a legitimate but a good expense of public dollars, because what I want is for my colleagues on both sides of the aisle motivated to expand linked learning throughout the state," Steinberg said. "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."
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 the good government group California Common Cause, said his organization had no objection so long as the public is allowed to attend.
"As a watchdog, we're fine with it," Ung said. "I think there are some voters who will have a question about the price tag and what it is that money is paying for."