SACRAMENTO—Democratic lawmakers made their first public rejection of a nominee of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday, refusing to reappoint to the state Board of Education a Silicon Valley businessman opposed by advocates of bilingual education.
The fight over Reed Hastings, however, had more to do with Democratic Party politics than with the Republican governor. Hastings is a major Democratic donor first appointed by former Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, in 2000.
Hastings lost the support of Latino lawmakers with his aggressive support of English-language reading instruction for immigrant children while he was the board’s chairman. After Schwarzenegger renominated him last year, his confirmation hearing in the California Senate was delayed for months because of a lack of support among the Democrats who control the Senate.
Hastings’ rejection came after an impassioned three-hour committee hearing during which he received support from Democratic State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, Silicon Valley business leaders, the California Teachers Federation and charter schools that Hastings had personally helped support.
“The truth is, low-income students and students of color—especially those struggling to learn English—have suffered from decades of low expectations,” said Russlynn Ali, executive director of the Education Trust-West, an Oakland nonprofit organization to which Hastings has donated. “Under Reed Hastings’ leadership—as a result of Reed Hastings’ leadership—that’s changing. Why on Earth would we turn back the clock?”
But many opponents testified that while he was president, the board exceeded its authority by requiring elementary schools to teach students 2 1/2 hours in English each day as a condition of receiving federal funds. That policy was overturned by a court order and subsequent law.
“I’m ashamed today to be a Democrat, to have to come up here to convince Democrats that this is a good thing,” said Steve Barr, president of Green Dot Public Schools, an Inglewood-based charter school group, who testified on Hastings’ behalf.