State Senate vote sets up school testing showdown; Softer on drug crimes; The Willie Brown (Bay) Bridge?

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todaysnewsbanner2 Testing fight. The state Senate has passed a bill that would revamp standardized testing for California students. The vote defies a threat from the nation’s top education official that the government could withhold funding if the bill becomes law.

The proposed new law would replace the state’s paper-and-pencil tests next spring with new exams designed to follow the new Common Core curriculum standards in math, English and social science. Students would use computers to take the tests.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan objects to a part of the proposed law that would withhold test scores for students, schools, and school districts for the first year at least. Duncan says he’s willing to withhold federal funds if the bill passes.

LAUSD receives about 10 percent of its budget – around $600 million – from Uncle Sam.

The bill now goes to the Assembly. If it passes, Gov. Jerry Brown says he’ll sign it. AP

Drug crimes. Prosecutors in California may soon have more flexibility on how they charge people in certain types of drug cases. The state Senate has given final approval to a measure that would classify low-level, non-violent drug offenses as what’s called a “wobbler” offense. That means prosecutors could treat it as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Supporters of the bill say it would reduce jail spending as well as drug use and crime and allow more resources to go toward drug treatment and mental health services. Opponents say the bill would minimize the consequences of drug addiction and weaken existing laws. The bill now heads to the governor for consideration. L.A. Times
Bay watcher. One of Southern California’s most prominent environmental groups has a new CEO. Heal the Bay has hired Ruskin Hartley, whoc was born in Britain and educated at Cambridge. He led the San Francisco based Save the Redwoods League for the past six years. As the head of Heal the Bay, Hartley will run an organization best known for its work helping to clean up Santa Monica Bay and its annual environmental ratings of Southern California beaches. He’s expected to fight for tougher storm water runoff standards and better water quality monitoring, along with improving coastal planning in light of climate change. L.A. Observed

Brown Bridge? Former Assembly Speaker and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown is a Bay Area icon, but Governor Jerry Brown doesn’t want Brown’s name adorning another Bay Area icon. Although the governor opposes renaming part of the Bay Bridge for Brown, a measure to do that has passed the Assembly without opposition and is expected to come before the Senate this week. A spokesman says Brown believes the bridge should be forever known as the Bay Bridge – a name he says lives in the hearts and minds of Californians. Sacramento Bee

aeroscraftFlying machine. It’s a bird…It’s a plane…It’s a … flying submarine? That’s how the company Aeros describes its massive experimental airship. It’s called the “Aeroscraft,” it’s filled with helium and it looks  like a streamlined Zeppelin. Company officials tested the Aeroscraft yesterday near a former military base in Tustin. It reached about 20 feet, but shifting winds kept the airship from making its first untethered flight. Aeros says the ship’s buoyancy system allows it to carry heavy cargo and move vertically with the precision of a helicopter. The company has received more than $50 million in funding from the Pentagon and NASA. L.A. Times

Supermarket sale. L.A. billionaire Ron Burkle is buying the Fresh & Easy supermarket chain from British retailer Tesco, ending the company’s short-lived and unsuccessful run in the U.S. About 50 of Fresh & Easy’s 200 stores will shut down. Tesco, a British supermarket behemoth, has reportedly lost $2 billion in the five years since the chain was introduced to U.S. consumers – and industry analysts say the venture has been badly mismanaged. Fresh & Easy tried to lure customers with a selection of ready-to-eat meals and a convenience-store-like format, but it never really caught on. The chain’s anti-union stance also drew the ire of some shoppers. L.A. Times