Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday now is the right time for California students to return to in-person learning, signing a $6.6 billion package to fund school reopening efforts for districts that want to open.
After much back-and-forth between legislators and the governor, Newsom signed into law Assembly Bill 86. The bill aims to have the youngest and most at-risk students back onto school campuses by the end of this month.
“This is the right time to sign this bill. This is the right time to safely reopen for in-person instruction our schools,” said Newsom Friday during a virtual ceremony with lawmakers and educators.
The legislation 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.
AB 86 received significant support from senators and Assembly members Thursday, including from lawmakers whose districts include the Santa Clarita Valley.
From the floor of the state Senate, Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, was critical of Newsom’s handling of the pandemic, but said he “reluctantly” voted for the AB 86 because schools in his district need the funding for a safe reopening.
“The truth is AB86 doesn’t do anything to reopen our schools. I believe with or without this bill school districts that want to reopen will and school districts that don’t want to reopen won’t,” said Wilk. “The truth is we don’t need AB 86 because the governor has the ability himself to put kids first and sign an executive order reopening our schools and he has chosen not to do so.”
Assemblywoman Suzette Valladares, R-Santa Clarita, also voted in support but deemed the legislation “far from perfect.”
“The bill does not go far enough in reopening schools, particularly for our middle and high school students. But the bill does give an incentive for schools to open, and it provides resources to aid the transition to in-person instruction,” she said in a prepared statement. “It also makes progress in vaccinating our teachers and school staff, which is an important piece of the puzzle. It is a step in the right direction, and that is why I voted in support of the bill.”
In the Santa Clarita Valley, hundreds of elementary students returned to their campuses last week, while districts with middle and high school students have yet to commit to a return date. The William S. Hart Union High School District, for example, discussed Wednesday a possible March 29 start date, should L.A. County COVID-19 cases continue to drop. No action was taken during the board meeting, however.