New Laws for California Schools: AB 413, use of ‘at-promise’ vs. ‘at-risk’

CSBA’s “New Laws for California Schools” series highlights new laws signed in 2019 affecting K-12 education. New laws are effective Jan. 1, 2020, unless otherwise noted. The What’s New for 2020 report on all new laws affecting education is available at

The term “at-risk” has long been used to describe students coming from precarious situations or circumstances that increase their chances of academic failure. The term is often used to refer to those from disadvantaged backgrounds, which can include those in low-income communities, English learners and children in foster care, among others.

Various provisions of the Education and Penal Codes currently use “at-risk.” Effective Jan. 1, 2020, Assembly Bill 413 (Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles) replaces the term “at-risk” with the term “at-promise” in each relevant code section. The bill clarifies that, for purposes of the Education Code, “at-promise” has the same meaning as “at-risk.”

Asm. Jones-Sawyer stated that, “Our education system has adopted the harmful term ‘at-risk youth’ to label our most vulnerable students. That term connotes negativity and it must be changed. The label ‘at-risk youth’ comes from a mindset of deficit, and focuses on what children lack. As a state, we need to move away from this mentality that tells our children they are likely to fail.”

“We must start referring to our youth as ‘at-promise’ which focuses on a child’s immense potential to succeed in all aspects of life,” he added.

AB 413 does not levy any new or additional requirements on school districts or county offices of education as a result of the change in Education or Penal code. Rather, the bill endeavors to phase out the use of “at-risk” due to the stigma which can surround the term.

Asm. Jones-Sawyer further offers that various researchers (including sociologists and early childhood educators) argue that the use of negative labels can lead to stigmas and expectations of failure, and that the negative term “at-risk youth” perpetuates a cycle of self-doubt and problematic behaviors. Furthermore, implicit bias enforced by the term “at-risk” can influence the way these students are treated and potentially diminish the resources available to them.

Section 96 is added to the Education Code, to read:

96. “At-promise” has the same meaning as “at-risk,” as that term is generally understood, and consistent with federal law.

The following sections of the Education Code are amended to replace “at-risk” with “at-promise”:

Sections 234.1, 8266.1, 8423, 8801, 11300, 33426, 42920, 44324, 45391, 48660.1, 51266, 54690, 60901, and 69981.

The following sections of the Penal Code are amended to replace “at-risk” with “at-promise”:

Sections 5087, 6025, 6027, 13825.2, 13825.4, 13825.5, 13826.11, and 13864.

Questions? Email CSBA Governmental Relations or Legal Services