SACRAMENTO — In a rush to bring children back to California schools after a year of closed campuses, Governor Gavin Newsom and lawmakers said Monday the state will offer $2 billion to school districts willing to reopen next month.
In an agreement between Newsom and the state’s legislative leaders, grants will be offered to districts with low COVID-19 case rates that are able to reopen for in-person learning beginning April 1.
The plan, which places a heavy focus on grades K-2 and special education, does not require teachers to be vaccinated or force districts to reopen by the deadline.
If approved by the Legislature, the plan would commit a total of $6.5 billion to help schools make up for lost time and resources during the pandemic closures that have been in place for most since last March.
Many Democratic lawmakers are already on board with the amended California schools reopening plan, including state Senator Dave Cortese who said the state could no longer afford to keep children out of schools.
“I am hopeful that this plan will address the learning loss that students have experienced without in-person instruction while ensuring that our educators, students, and families are as protected as possible,” Cortese said in a statement. “Responding to learning loss impacts as well as considerations for physical and mental health must be factored into our state’s next steps moving forward to continue to support the overall health and well-being of all children.”
The proposal, which could be voted on in the Legislature as early as midweek, comes after months of tense negotiations between Newsom, lawmakers, and teacher unions about when and how to reopen California schools.
Newsom introduced a similar approach filled with reopening bonuses three months ago that aimed to have younger children back in California schools by February, but it didn’t gain much traction with the teacher unions that argued districts shouldn’t reopen until infections dropped.
Last week, Assembly Democrats introduced their own plan that was quickly dashed by Newsom, who claimed it didn’t go far enough or get schools reopened fast enough.
California Schools Chief Thurmond Approves of Deal
“There is no question that students learn best when they are together with their peers and educators in a physically and emotionally safe school environment,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said in a statement Monday afternoon.
“Our schools need every resource possible to implement the layered safety measures that will facilitate a safe return to in-person learning for students, school staff, teachers, and their families,” he said.
Thurmond’s statement continues:
“I want to thank Governor Gavin Newsom and our leaders in the Legislature for crafting a proposal that will provide our school districts and educators additional resources to help resume safe in-person learning and invest in expanded learning and academic interventions to help students accelerate learning and recover from the impacts of this pandemic.
“Vaccines offer more schools their best chance at accelerating a return to in-person learning, so I am especially encouraged to see this proposal cements the Governor’s announcement that a portion of doses will be set aside for the education workforce. Until more people are vaccinated, I urge our school districts to continue to pursue and invest in rapid, robust coronavirus testing of asymptomatic school staff and students as a key safety measure to reducing potential spread.
“As larger numbers of students return to school campuses, the California Department of Education (CDE) will continue collaborating with equity leaders, practitioners, and educational stakeholders to design and expand strategies for supporting our state’s highest-need students, accelerating academic growth, and addressing learning gaps experienced during this public health crisis.
“My team looks forward to continuing to build out programs and professional development to support educators, expanding effective family engagement practices across the state, and developing tutoring, expanded learning, and other academic intervention strategies for students.
“In the coming days the CDE will be announcing the school district recipients of our latest round of mini-grants to target equity gaps in education, and we also will be opening up the submission process in our $1 million California Digital Divide Innovation Challenge to turn bold ideas into action that can ensure all California students have access to high-speed internet once and for all.
“In the last few weeks, we have seen more and more school districts across California announce plans and timelines to reopen their campuses as COVID-19 case rates fall and more people are vaccinated. While we are making encouraging progress, we have to heed the advice of public health leaders who say we cannot get complacent: as communities, we must continue to practice common-sense safety measures such as wearing face coverings and physical distancing so that we can keep infections low enough to return as many students as possible to the classroom.”
This is a developing story.
— By Nick Cahill, CNS