Resources > Charter Currents > Charter Currents: Coronavirus Update #17: Governor Proposes $2 Billion Plan to Encourage In-Person Instruction

Editor’s Note: CSDC is offering these Coronavirus-19 updates for public viewing, to members and non-members alike, and in front of our usual member’s only “paywall” as a service to the larger charter school community. We hope nonmembers will consider joining CSDC.

Sacramento, CA—Under mounting pressure from experts to reopen schools for in-person instruction, Governor Newsom today announced a $2 billion “Safe Schools for All” plan, calling for phased reopening of schools for in-person starting with grades TK-2 in February. Newsom emphasized that his four-part plan, apparently hatched in consultation with the Legislature’s Education Committee chairs, is a proposal that will undergo further revisions and legislative deliberations in January.

The proposed plan includes the following four major components:

  1. Funding, of $2 billion, ranging from $450 to $750 per student, weighted for schools serving low-income, English learner, and foster youth students, for those schools reopening for in-person instruction. These funds will be in addition to a large additional infusion of federal and perhaps state funds (see below for more details).

  2. Safety and Mitigation, including the following four components:
    • Testing: The plan will “support frequent COVID-19 testing for all school staff and students, including weekly testing” in communities with high rates of transmission. The governor displayed a slide calling for “symptomatic” testing for schools in Yellow and Orange tier counties, twice-monthly testing of students and staff in counites in Red and Purple tier counties, and weekly testing in counties with case rates above 14 per 100,000. Schools will be granted access to the state-owned Valencia Branch Lab for the more sensitive PCR tests at reduced rates. Newsom indicated the state is also exploring Medicaid reimbursement for testing costs via the state’s MediCal program.
    • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): The plan requires “all staff and students” to wear masks, recommends surgical masks for staff, and calls for state distribution of “millions of surgical masks.” Surgical masks are thought to be more effective than the more common cloth masks, but far less effective than the N95 masks reserved for the most exposed staff in health facilities; these are in very short supply.
    • Contact Tracing: The plan calls for continuing to on-board schools to the emerging School Portal for Outbreak Tracking (SPOT) system, improving collaboration between school and health officials, presumably in recognition of the the state’s largely ineffective contract tracing efforts and poor communications between schools and counties in many locales.
    • Vaccinations: The plan states that “school staff will be prioritized” for vaccines in spring of 2021. The governor noted that his vaccine Drafting Guidelines Workgroup, an advisory group on who will receive the COVID-19 vaccines first in California, likely will place school staff in phase “1B,” perhaps allowing for vaccination of staff by spring.

  3. Oversight and Assistance: The plan would establish a “Safe Schools for All Team” with staff from various state agencies, notably including the Department of Public Health and Cal/OSHA, to “provide hands-on support to help schools develop and implement their COVID-19 Safety Plans.” Supports will include school visits and walk-throughs “as warranted” along with webinars and training materials. The team will be led by Dr. Naomi Bardach, a pediatrician at the renown University of California San Francisco Medical Center who has been calling for prioritizing reopening schools for many months.

  4. Transparency and Accountability: The plan calls for establishing a state dashboard to “enable all Californians to see their school’s reopening status, level of available funding, and data on in-school transmissions. It will also include a web-based “hotline” to “empower school staff and parents to report concerns to the Safe Schools for All Team” which can “lead to escalating levels of intervention.”


Missing Elements

The plan is perhaps most notable for what it lacks: responses to the most stubborn barriers to reopening, including bullying and delay tactics by school labor unions, confusing and contradictory guidance and mandates on workplace procedures by the California Department of Public Health and Cal/OSHA that are confounding school administrators, and serious concerns over liability for school agencies and school leaders. 

Newsom largely evaded repeated questions from reporters about teacher union threats and delay tactics. He called for vigorous enforcement of public health guidelines to protect teachers, stated that “meeting and conferring” is a “fundamental” labor-management principle, and brushed off follow-on questions by stating that “our teachers love teaching.” The governor’s response stands in stark contrast to the on-the-ground reality of unions using political leverage, threats, and delay tactics.


Darling-Hammond Calls for Innovative Practices

Newsom’s State Board of Education President Linda Darling-Hammond made perhaps the most interesting comments during today’s press conference, sketching concepts in Newsom’s forthcoming January proposal for the state’s budget to address learning loss and other concerns. Darling-Hammond criticized the “mindset of agrarian society” that ends school during the summer and calls for “cramming everything in by May.” She later hinted that proposals to extend the school day and year, to provide tutoring to address learning loss, and research-backed instructional practices are forthcoming. She also spoke favorably of innovations such as outdoor classrooms, project-based learning, and other practices that should “become a regular part of teachers’ toolboxes.”


Budget Context and Next Steps

Newsom’s proposals come in the context of generally good budget news. State tax revenues for the first five months of the fiscal year are coming in far above estimates underlying the 2020-21 state budget when it was adopted last summer. The Department of Finance estimates that state General Fund tax revenues for the first five months of the current fiscal year are almost $14 billion, a whopping 22 percent higher than budgeted estimates. 

The Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) estimates that these increased revenues, in combination with other factors, could leave the state with an additional $13.7 billion of “one-time” and $4.2 billion of ongoing funding available for K-14 education in the current and upcoming fiscal years—a huge turnaround from the grim assumptions underlying current budgeted funding.

Congress and President Trump recently approved a massive additional infusion of aid to schools, including an estimated $6.8 billion for California, a level roughly four times as large as the prior round of federal funding from the first federal COVID relief bill. The new funds will be allocated almost entirely based on schools’ and districts’ prior funding from the federal Title I program, a boon to those that participate and a bust for the many that do not. 

Newsom’s proposal also comes in the context of a proposed legislation (Assembly Bill 10) that would mandate reopening of schools by March 1, when local health conditions allow. The bill is authored by influential legislators, interestingly including many with strong ties to labor groups that have opposed reopening schools.

The massive infusion of new cash, increased pressures for reopening schools, and roll-out of new vaccines will make for continued and rapid changes in key instructional, financial, and health-related factors that school administrators will need to consider. January likely will bring considerable legislative and regulatory efforts, few of which are easy to predict at this time. CSDC advises that school leaders try to rest well for the next several days pending likely major continued changes throughout the spring.




Posted: 12/30/2020