Newsom, lawmakers reach deal to fund school reopening for younger students

Teacher Nicholas Patey teaches calculus in an empty classroom at Golden Valley High School on Thursday, August 27, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal
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Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Monday he and Democratic state lawmakers had reached a deal to fund the reopening of schools for the youngest students across California, as Los Angeles County began vaccinating educators. 

The $6.6 billion budget packet, via the proposed Assembly Bill/Senate Bill 86, includes $2 billion that would fund safety measures to support in-person instruction, such as personal protective equipment, COVID-19 testing and ventilation upgrades, while the remaining $4.6 billion would go toward tutoring, mental health services and summer school opportunities.  

To receive funds, school districts in counties that fall under California’s most restrictive stage (the purple tier) must reopen campuses for at least through second grade and for high-need students in all grades by the end of March. Those in the red tier, which is the next most restrictive tier, must have all elementary grades back on campus and commit to one grade in middle and high school, Newsom announced Monday during a press briefing. 

“Once you dip your toe in, once you build a cohort confidently, once you build trust, then we will start to see a cadence of reopening across the spectrum,” said Newsom.

The penalty for not reopening under the guidelines of the budget package means losing 1% of eligible funds every day after March 31. 

The budget package comes after hundreds of elementary students in the Santa Clarita Valley returned to campus last week after nearly a year of remote learning. 

Prior to Monday’s announcement, some local school districts and lawmakers criticized the legislation. Via a letter sent to legislators last week, the William S. Hart Union High School District and Newhall School District joined multiple others across the state in urging the state to reconsider the school reopening plans that the governor announced. 

“Despite clear intention and efforts to the contrary, it has been our experience that policy discussions to incentivize the reopening of more schools for in-person instruction will likely not have the desired effect, per our feedback above and the political realities we see before us,” read the letter from school districts and education offices.  

Among the concerns listed in the letter was that AB/SB 86 did not include “language stating vaccine access is not a condition for returning to work and providing in-person instruction.” On Monday, the proposed legislation then read that vaccination is not a prerequisite for providing in-person instruction.  

“The bill is moving in the right direction, but still has flaws that are deeply problematic for our junior high and high school students,” Assemblywoman Suzette Valladares, R-Santa Clarita, who had also criticized the legislation, said Monday. 

A hearing for the bill is scheduled Tuesday. 

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