DeSaulnier bill would lower student loan rates

Student loan borrowers would be able to refinance their interest rates at the rate offered to banks by the Federal Reserve, under a bill announced Monday by Rep. Mark DeSaulnier.

DeSaulnier, D-Concord, held an event at the University of California, Berkeley to roll out H.R. 3675, the Student Borrower Fairness Act, which would offset its costs by increasing corporate tax rates on companies that pay their CEOs or highest paid employees more than 100 times the median compensation of all employees.

Mark DeSaulnier“It is patently unfair that the same big banks that toppled our economy borrow from the federal government at extremely low interest rates while student borrowers are struggling to pay back their loans,” DeSaulnier said in a news release. “Meanwhile, people of all ages are buried in student loan debt which holds them back from being able to buy a car, purchase a home, save for retirement, or start a family. This bill is a first step toward making sure our students can emerge from under their piles of crippling debt and enter tomorrow’s highly-trained workforce.”

Congress acted on student loan rates in 2013, but the changes only applied to new borrowers.

UC-Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks applauded the bill. “College students and their families depend on student loans to access higher education,” Dirks said in the congressman’s release. “At Berkeley, we are proud that 61 percent of our undergraduates graduate without debt and the average debt of students who do borrow is only $17,584, much lower than the national average. This legislation would benefit all borrowers because it will help them manage their debt and repayment.”

James Donahue, president of St. Mary’s College of California in Moraga, said his college “is built on the idea that education has the power to transform lives. The Student Borrower Fairness Act will provide opportunities for all students to pursue their dreams of a higher education, and ultimately highly successful lives. Student loan debt is a national issue and reducing it must be a national priority.”

DeSaulnier’s office said outstanding student loans now total more than $1.3 trillion, surpassing total credit card debt. More than 37 million Americans have outstanding student loan debt, with an average outstanding balance of $29,400 for those who borrowed to get a bachelor’s degree. From 2004 to 2012, student loan debt rose an average of 14 percent per year.


George Miller part of new early-childhood panel

Former Rep. George Miller is among the high-profile members of a new “Right Start Commission” aimed at helping modernize California’s early-childhood services.

The commission, rolled out Thursday by Common Sense Kids Action, will develop a plan for providing universal, high-quality access to early learning and support systems from birth to age 5. The panel will examine both government’s role in providing such services, and the private sector’s responsibility to ensure a good start for employees’ children; its recommendations will become a legislative blueprint.

“Every child deserves a fair start in life and the only way we can ensure that happens is to provide all kids with the care, support and quality learning experiences they need to be successful from day one,” Common Sense Media CEO Jim Steyer, who’ll also serve on the commission, said in a news release. “We know that improving early childhood education is one of the best investments we can make. Yet, across the nation millions of American kids are denied this critical opportunity year after year. With the Right Start Commission, Common Sense Kids Action will kick off an effort to reimagine early childhood services in California and create a model for the nation to ensure every child has the opportunity to succeed.”

The commission’s launch is in conjunction with the Invest In US coalition President Obama unveiled in 2014 to improve the quality of and access to early childhood education for children throughout the country. It will hold a series of statewide and national events over the remainder of the year to collect input from early education and care practitioners, parents, educators and respected researchers.

Besides Steyer and Miller, who just retired after 40 years in the House as a leader on education issues, the commission’s members include Salesforce Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff; PolicyLink Founder and CEO Angela Glover Blackwell; Stanford University Professor Linda Darling-Hammond; Institute for InterGroup Understanding Chair and CEO George Halvorson; Center for Youth Wellness Founder and CEO Nadine Burke Harris; Apple Vice President of Environmental Initiatives Lisa Jackson; Heising-Simons Foundation President Elizabeth Simons; and former state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.

“Early investment in our youngest children is essential to their long-term success as individuals and a bright future for California,” Steinberg said in the news release. “Now, more than ever, we must move kids to the top of our agenda and provide them with the resources they need to compete and succeed in a global economy. The Right Start Commission is a critical first step toward achieving that vision.”


UC Regents urged to finish gun industry divestment

Activists preparing to mark Saturday’s anniversary of last year’s murderous rampage in Isla Vista, in which six UC Santa Barbara students were killed and 13 were wounded, urged the UC Board of Regents on Thursday to finish divesting the system from any investments in the firearm industry.

Thousands of petition signatures were delivered to the board’s meeting at UCSF’s Mission Bay campus by Allie Clement, a 2012 UC Santa Barbara graduate who hails from Newtown, Conn. — the site of 2012’s schoolhouse massacre. “I couldn’t believe that both my hometown and my college town were affected by gun violence.”

Bob Weiss of Thousand Oaks described to the board how his 19-year-old daughter, Veronika, was among those gunned down by Elliot Rodger that awful day.

“If this body is invested in the gun industry, that means you’re in the gun business, and if you’re in the gun business, I’m in the gun business. I don’t want to be in the gun business,” Weiss said, his voice breaking. “I don’t know how any of you can sleep at night with all of the students who have been killed.”

UC spokeswoman Dianne Klein said the system divested itself of any direct gun-industry investments in 2013, and is now combing through its vast portfolio to see if any of its mutual funds have such stakes; any that are found will be sold, she said.


SD7: Would they extend Prop. 30 taxes?

Orinda Mayor Steve Glazer says Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla flip-flopped on extending Proposition 30’s tax hikes to fund California’s schools, but Bonilla’s campaign said she has been consistent all along: She doesn’t support extending those taxes, but would support imposing new ones in their place.

The two Democrats are facing off in the 7th State Senate District’s special election, scheduled for May 19.

A new Bonilla campaign mailer that attacks Glazer for distorting her positions says she opposes extending the Prop. 30 taxes: “Glazer and his billionaire mega donor Bill Bloomfield are lying about Bonilla because they want to hide the fact that Steve Glazer was the ‘mastermind’ behind Prop 30, the $13.1 billion tax increase.”

The mailer follows that with a direct quote from Bonilla: “Steve Glazer and I both oppose extending Prop. 30.”


Josh Pulliam, Bonilla’s campaign consultant, said late Thursday afternoon that Bonilla has never supported an extension – whether by legislative action or another ballot measure – of Proposition 30’s taxes, and on several occasions has publicly corrected those who said otherwise.

She does, however, support a new, different, voter-approved tax hike measure to fund education in place of Prop. 30, he said.

Many apparently have been confused by this – perhaps including me.

In January, I reported on a TriValley Democratic Club forum at which Bonilla and then-candidate Joan Buchanan (who was eliminated in March’s special primary election) made their pitches.

Unsurprisingly, both said they would work to extend the Prop. 30 sales taxes and income taxes on the rich – due to expire in 2016 and 2018, respectively – in order to keep bankrolling education.

“The governor has made it very clear that the word ‘temporary’ means temporary, but … we need to go out to the people, I believe we can make the case,” Bonilla said. “There’s no way that you can get education on the cheap, it just doesn’t work.”

Contra Costa Times columnist Tom Barnridge wrote this after asking questions at a televised candidates’ forum in February:

What to do when Proposition 30 expires, ending temporary increases in sales and income taxes? Buchanan, Bonilla and Kremin would put an extension before voters. Glazer would let it expire because a temporary tax, he said, is meant to be temporary.

And the Lamorinda Democratic Club’s March newsletter recounted a Feb. 4 candidates’ forum thusly:

Susan Bonilla and Joan Buchanan favored extending Proposition 30 taxes, and a oil severance tax to continue to improve California schools—especially for the less fortunate. Steve Glazer, meanwhile, was against any new taxes and instead believed the government would have to live with the revenues it already receives.

Glazer campaign spokesman Jason Bezis said “there are more flips and flops in the Bonilla tax position than an amusement park roller coaster.

“She blindly supported a Prop. 30 tax extension in the primary, even though the promise to voters in 2012 was that it would be temporary. Now, in the general election, she flops away from it because that broken promise hurts her,” he claimed. “After this duplicity is uncovered, she flips yet again and says she wants to raise billions in new taxes, but just not ‘Prop 30’ taxes. You can see why voters are dizzy with Sacramento politicians like Bonilla. They have had enough of the political doublespeak.”

Incidentally, the Lamorinda Democratic Club – Glazer’s home turf – was scheduled to take an endorsement vote last week, president Katie Ricklefs said Thursday. But the vote was scrapped when a Glazer campaign operative cited a club bylaw – not updated since before the top-two primary system took effect – that essentially precludes the club from picking one Democrat over another in a general election. “We did a straw poll that showed 100 percent support for Susan, though,” Ricklefs said.


Bay Area students at White House Science Fair

Three Bay Area students’ projects will be among those featured in the White House Science Fair on Monday in Washington, D.C.

Holly JacksonHolly Jackson, 14, of San Jose, investigated the art of sewing from a unique, architectural point of view. After learning to sew in the 4th grade from her grandmother, Holly’s scientific curiosity led her to explore the relative strength and compatibility of threads and fabrics, important information to better understand innovative sewn materials for the 21st century. She engineered a device to measure the capacity and strength of stitched fabric, and designed experiments and procedures to yield precise measurements. Her research has potential applications in the design of high-performance protective gear, hazmat and space suits, parachutes, and more. Her work won the top award of $25,000 at the 2014 Broadcom MASTERS competition.

Natalie NgNatalie Ng, 19, of Cupertino, developed two micro-RNA-based prognostic models that can predict metastasis in breast cancer, and identified two micro-RNAs that independently impact the ability of breast cancer cells to metastasize. Ng’s project has important implications for breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. Breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer diagnosed in women worldwide, according to the latest WHO report. A frustrating reality about cancer is that even when initial hormonal treatment seems to work, metastatic cancer cells can survive and spread to distant sites in the body. So, accurate prediction of metastatic outcome, such as with the aid of genetic signatures, can significantly improve the ability to predict the recurrence risk and to devise appropriate treatment strategies for individual cancer patients. Ng won First Place at the 2013 International BioGENEius Challenge.

Ruchi PandyaRuchi Pandya, 18, of San Jose, combining nanotechnology, biology and electrochemistry to use small biological samples – only a single drop of blood – to test for specific cardiac biomarkers. She developed a one-square centimeter carbon nanofiber electrode-based biosensor that has the potential to improve cardiac health diagnostics for patients around the world. Ruchi takes her passion for STEM education beyond the lab by mentoring 9th and 10th grade students on research and engineering as a teaching assistant for her school’s STEM-research class. She has competed at the California State Science Fair every year, and has won 18 category and special awards for scientific research. After graduation, Ruchi intends to major in materials science and engineering, and hopes to pursue a career as a technology entrepreneur.


Oakland, SF education officials meet with Obama

Three California education officials – including two from the Bay Area – met Monday morning with President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to highlight the need for funding as Congress mulls a new budget and a revamp of the No Child Left Behind law.

Jumoke Hinton HodgeOakland Unified School District board member Jumoke Hinton Hodge, San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Richard Carranza and Fresno Unified School District Superintendent Mike Hanson were among the dozen officials from across the nation who met with Obama and Duncan at the White House.

All were from districts that are part of the Council of the Great City Schools; Hodge chairs the board of that national organization, which represents the needs of urban public schools. School districts eligible for membership must be located in cities with populations over 250,000 and student enrollment over 35,000.

Obama said in the meeting that he’s ready to fight with Republicans for school funding and his education priorities, the Associated Press reported. He hopes that Republican lawmakers focus on educating every child and not shifting money away from needy districts, he said; he’s also calling for a focus on low-performing schools, annual assessments and investments in special education and English-language learners.

If the Republican budget doesn’t reflect those priorities, he said, they will have “a major debate.”

“My hope is that their budget reflects the priorities of educating every child,” he said, according to a pool report from the New York Post’s Geoff Earle. “We are making too much progress here … for us to be going backwards now.”

Obama and Duncan are touting improved high-school graduation rates as evidence that the administration’s policies are working. In California, the high school graduation rates from 2012 to 2013 increased by 2.4 percent overall, including a 2.7 percent increase for Hispanic students and a 2.1 percent increase for African-American students.

Richard CarranzaHinton Hodge is co-founder of the Parent Leadership and Engagement Academy Initiative (PLEA), a community-building project dedicated to the education and support of West Oakland parents and families. She collaborated with California Tomorrow to develop programs aimed at increasing parents’ ability to navigate the public school system; has worked extensively with low-income youth and students identified as severely emotionally disturbed; and she has provided gender-specific services to urban girls.

Carranza has been San Francisco’s schools superintendent since June 2012; earlier, he had been the district’s deputy superintendent of instruction, innovation and social justice at the district since 2009.