In a last minute vote, California lawmakers narrowly passed a bill that would bar middle and high schools from starting class before 8:30 a.m.
The bill passed the Senate 23-13 late Friday. Earlier in the day, the Assembly passed the bill, 41-30.
Senate Bill 328, offered up by Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) missed passing the Assembly by 15 votes last year. The bill has been amended to make exceptions for rural school districts, where farming needs are a concern.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, students, especially teens, aren’t getting enough sleep. The average teenager needs between eight and 10 hours of sleep in order to function well. They cited one study that showed 85 percent of teenagers reported getting less than 8.5 hours of sleep on school nights. Early start times, combined with teens’ natural sleep rhythms, are a recipe for sleep deprivation. A lack of sleep puts students at risk of lower grades, poor health, and car accidents. One study showed that simply moving start times from 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. increased the attendance and happiness of students.
The bill was hotly debated by lawmakers throughout the state. Assemblyman Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond), a candidate for state superintendent of public instruction, celebrated the accuracy and honesty of the conversation around the bill.
“Everything I heard was a fact,” Thurmond told the LA Times. “And that might be a first, at least for what I’ve heard on this floor.”
Some local lawmakers objected to decisions that heavily impacted their neighborhoods being decided by the state government. They argued that local governments and school boards are better equipped to make decisions that affect their constituents.
“When it comes to education, the farther away the decisions are made from the classroom, the worse those decisions are,” said Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Riverside.
“We should not micromanage schools from Sacramento,” said Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell (R-Long Beach). “Why have a school district if we are going to pass this bill? SB328 will burden working families.”
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego) noted the impact of school hours on the working parents that make up most of her district, especially those who don’t work a standard nine-to-five schedule.
“I come from a district where we have a large population of janitors who work until 2:30, often 3:00 in the morning and then have to wake up at a certain time to take their kids to school.”
“We’ve tried everything to help kids and when the data comes back and it says this will help kids, then you ought to at least listen to it,” said Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego.)