ASCD California

News

  • 01/20/2021 2:20 PM | Cheryl Casagrande (Administrator)

    Newsom’s $2 billion school reopening fund could actually cost districts money

    BY RICARDO CANO

    JANUARY 20, 2021

    Kindergarten teacher Jessica Clancey, center, walks through her classroom at Barron Park Elementary School on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020 in Palo Alto. 

    IN SUMMARY

    Some school officials say a proposal touted by Gov. Gavin Newsom as financial assistance to reopen California campuses attaches strings that would strain their budgets.

    In his bid to get California school campuses back open, Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed giving extra money to schools that managed to open by a certain date. 

    But the $2 billion in grant money would come attached with strings that some districts say would mean paying more than if they didn’t get the money in the first place. That’s because Newsom’s proposal — and new state guidance, the first since last summer — calls for vastly increased testing of school staff and students, which the schools would have to pay for. 

    The governor’s “Safe Schools for All Plan,” first released Dec. 30, aims to incentivize schools to offer in-person learning by offering between $450 and $700 in per-pupil grant funding if the schools reopen for their youngest students by Feb. 16.

    In order to receive extra state funding, districts would have to test staff and students for coronavirus periodically, according to trailer bill language. The frequency of the testing would depend on which of the state’s four color-coded reopening tiers the schools reside in. 

    For example, schools in the state’s purple and red tiers are now suggested to test their employees and students every two weeks. For schools in especially hard-hit counties with case rates higher than 14 positive cases per 100,000 — at this point, most schools — the guidance calls for testing staff and students on a weekly basis, per the California Department of Public Health. The guidance does not suggest specific testing timing for schools in the orange or yellow tiers. 

    Schools are not mandated to follow the state’s testing guidance if they don’t plan to seek financial support through Newsom’s proposed $2 billion fund for school reopenings. But the testing strings attached to state assistance have garnered criticism from school officials and advocates toward a reopening plan that had already attracted pushback from large, urban districts and teachers unions.

    Critics of the governor’s reopening plan say that requiring more frequent testing — and that students be included — adds more to reopening costs than would be recuperated by the $2 billion fund. School officials have also raised concerns about the tight deadlines in order to qualify for the full per-pupil amounts, as well as the fact that the money is coming out of the Proposition 98 pot of funds already meant for K-12 schools and community colleges.

    “I don’t know if that grant money was going to be enough for everything that would be required, including the testing schedule,” said Al Mijares, the Orange County district superintendent. “It’s made it difficult for people to immediately jump at this with enthusiasm and grab it with gusto and run.”

    State advocacy groups representing school boards and district and county superintendents wrote a letter to the governor Tuesday asking him to make significant changes to his reopening proposal, including setting “more feasible” testing requirements to obtain funding. 

    The math doesn’t even pan out. So, districts would be stuck with this bill on the back end of something that nobody could afford.

    MARIAN KIM-PHELPS, SUPERINTENDENT, POWAY UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT

    “The difficulty of implementing the proposed testing cadence prior to the proposed deadlines cannot be understated,” read the letter from school advocates, which included the California School Boards Association and California County School Superintendents Educational Services Association.

    “Because COVID-19 testing for students and staff is central to the reopening plan, it is critical that schools actually have the capacity to operationalize and pay for the new testing requirements,” the letter said. “Currently, the vast majority of (school districts) do not believe such a path exists.”

    Jesse Melgar, a spokesman for Newsom, said in a statement Tuesday that the governor planned to “continue working with legislators and stakeholders to advance this proposal in the coming weeks.”

    “We appreciate that the letter acknowledges the importance of our Safe Schools for All Plan and the value of returning to in-person instruction in a manner that is safe for students and staff – even as they pose questions about the $2 billion budget proposal,” Melgar said.

    Most public schools that reopened last fall did not include students in their surveillance testing strategies, and some reopened with minimal or no surveillance testing. The testing issue had vexed many local districts grappling with questions surrounding cost, availability and how often to test employees. Earlier state guidance on reopening schools suggested districts test their staff once every two months. It did not issue recommendations for testing students. 

    As part of the governor’s push to reopen schools, the state is allowing schools to piggyback on the state’s contract with Valencia Branch Laboratory for discounted testing. Also, the state has vowed to offer more technical support for schools by creating a new team dedicated to helping schools develop safety plans and launching a new website to troubleshoot their questions.

    Still, for some school districts, the costs associated with required weekly or biweekly testing for employees and students outweigh the benefit of pursuing the $450 per-student grants.

    Marian Kim-Phelps, superintendent of San Diego County’s Poway Unified, said Newsom’s reopening plan could actually cost the district of 36,000 students money if it decided to apply for the grants. 


  • 01/18/2021 3:37 PM | Cheryl Casagrande (Administrator)

    Biden chooses San Diego Unified superintendent as deputy education secretary

    San Diego Unified School District Superintendent Cindy Marten spoke at Lincoln High School in 2015.

    San Diego Unified School District Superintendent Cindy Marten speaks at Lincoln High School during the State of the District Address in 2015.

    (Misael Virgen / San Diego Union-Tribune)

    Biden’s team cited San Diego Unified’s graduation rate and national test scores as reasons for her nomination

    By KRISTEN TAKETA

    JAN. 18, 2021

    8:18 AM

    President-elect Joe Biden nominated San Diego Unified Superintendent Cindy Marten as his deputy secretary of education, the Biden administration announced Monday.

    Marten, who has led California’s second-largest school district of roughly 100,000 students since 2013, is expected to serve in the post under the leadership of Biden’s nominated Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, Connecticut’s schools chief. Marten’s nomination also awaits Senate approval.

    “I am honored to serve alongside @teachcardona to restore our education system – putting teachers, students, and parents first. Work Hard. Be Kind. Dream Big. Let’s do this!” Marten tweeted on Monday morning.

    Marten will remain superintendent until she is confirmed by the Senate, which district officials expect may happen in February.

    In a closed meeting Sunday, the San Diego Unified School Board chose Area Superintendent Lamont Jackson to serve as interim superintendent once Marten moves on to her new position.

    Lamont Jackson led a community meeting in 2015.

    Lamont Jackson leads a community meeting to discuss whether or not Robert E. Lee Elementary School should be renamed at the school auditorium in 2015.

    (Misael Virgen)

    Jackson, who oversees the district area that includes Morse, Mira Mesa, Clairemont and University City high schools, was previously the district’s chief human resources officer. Jackson will remain interim superintendent until the end of the 2021 calendar year, while the board will discuss in upcoming weeks how to search for a new superintendent.

    “This district and our community are facing enormous challenges over the course of this year getting through the pandemic, getting our schools reopened, helping our students recover from what they’ve experienced both academically and socially, emotionally,” said San Diego Unified School Board President Richard Barrera. “It’s very important that we have stability and continuity in the leadership of the district as we go through this year.”

    Biden in an announcement cited San Diego Unified’s graduation rate and reading growth on national standardized tests, saying both exceed those of other large school districts.

    Last year San Diego Unified had a 88.6 percent graduation rate, which was 1 percent better than the statewide average and up from 86.6 percent in 2017.

    Biden also highlighted Marten’s 17 years as a classroom teacher and her 10 years working as principal at Central Elementary in City Heights, where she helped build a biliteracy program, an arts program, a school garden, preschool and after-school programs, a daycare for employees’ children and a community health and wellness center.

    Before arriving at Central, Marten worked in Poway Unified as a teacher and literacy specialist and as a teacher at Beth Israel Day School.

    San Diego Unified recently received recognition on state and national levels for outperforming similar school districts, which some officials believe is why Marten was picked.

    “There’s been a lot of national attention on what’s going on in San Diego,” said John Lee Evans, former San Diego Unified board president.

    In 2019 San Diego Unified was one of two large urban districts nationwide to outperform the average for urban districts on national math and reading test scores for fourth- and eighth-graders.

    The district also received praise in recent years from multiple think tanks, including the Learning Policy Institute, whose CEO Linda Darling-Hammond heads the California state school board and Biden’s education transition team.

    Some strategies San Diego Unified used to improve schools include expanding arts programs, focusing on literacy instruction and using data and feedback to improve teaching and student learning, Marten has said.

    Under her leadership San Diego Unified secured a $3.5 billion bond program that has been funding technology and large-scale upgrades to schools.

    The district also has implemented several racial equity reforms, including changing the way students are graded to be less punitive, requiring “restorative” rather than punitive discipline, and creating an ethnic studies requirement for high school graduation.

    Marten’s term has not been without controversy. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic San Diego Unified has remained closed to regular in-person instruction out of caution and has been providing in-person support to a few students, generating anger among parents who say children are falling behind and suffering emotionally.

    When the school board renewed Marten’s contract in 2019, the board said she had ensured stability in the district and raised performance for Black and Latino students but failed to turn around Lincoln High School, one of the district’s historically struggling schools.

    The board also said the district had not succeeded in lowering student chronic absenteeism rates or halting declining enrollment, particularly in preschool.

    Barrera said about Biden’s choice that it’s a signal Biden wants to invest and scale up the strategies San Diego Unified uses to improve schools.

    “We’re very proud that the work that Cindy has led in San Diego for the past seven and a half years has been recognized on a national level, and now the president-elect wants to bring that work across the country,” Barrera said. “I think it’s a very important moment for our kids because it signals a seriousness on the part of the federal government to invest in public education as a priority, and that’s something that frankly we really have never seen.”

    Marten said she has spoken with the school board about ensuring a “seamless transition” once she is confirmed and leaves the district.

    “I have had the joy of watching some of our students learn to read for the first time. I’ve e seen others become the first in their families to graduate from college,” she wrote in a letter to San Diego Unified families Monday morning.

    “I had the privilege of seeing the middle school I attended be replaced by a brand new state-of-the-art building as part of an $8 billion bond program. It is the love and support of my hometown that has made all of this possible, and I am deeply grateful for having been entrusted with the sacred responsibility of educating your children.”

    Marten, who is from a Chicago suburb, moved with her family to San Diego at a young age, where she attended San Diego Unified’s Hardy Elementary and Horace Mann Middle schools as well as the private La Jolla Country Day School.

    Marten has said she was inspired to become a teacher by her older brother Charley Cohen, who is developmentally disabled. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse and a master’s in curriculum and instruction from UC San Diego.


  • 01/12/2021 2:28 PM | Cheryl Casagrande (Administrator)

    Newsom’s school reopening plan puts tight deadlines on districts, legislature

    BY RICARDO CANOJANUARY 11, 2021

    Second and third grade teacher Kylie Shannon, center, answers questions from students during the first day of school at Sunnyvale Christian School in Sunnyvale on Aug. 27, 2020. Photo by Randy Vazquez, Bay Area News Group




    Second and third grade teacher Kylie Shannon, center, answers questions from students during the first day of school at Sunnyvale Christian School in Sunnyvale on Aug. 27, 2020. Photo by Randy Vazquez, Bay Area News Group

    IN SUMMARY

    Schools would have to offer in-person learning for primary students starting Feb. 16 in order to get the full funds under the governor’s $89.5 billion education budget. Lawmakers would need to meet deadlines in February and March, far earlier than normal.

    The record $89.5 billion education budget Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled Friday includes $2 billion in grants aimed at nudging schools to reopen classrooms for its youngest students by mid-February and $4.6 billion for summer school to address students’ learning. 

    The governor’s push to reopen schools, though, comes as many of the state’s large, urban districts have delayed or scaled back plans for in-person learning amid the state’s worst surge in coronavirus cases since the pandemic initially closed schools almost a year ago. 

    School districts will also be under tight deadlines if they wish to receive the full $450 to $750 per student in grant funding. In order to get the full amounts, districts will have to submit to the state by Feb. 1 plans outlining the safety and testing measures for in-person learning with approval by their local employee unions, according to trailer bill language describing the program. 

    Schools then must offer in-person instruction to students in transitional kindergarten through second, as well as students most at risk of disengaging from school, by Feb. 16, followed by third- through sixth-graders by March 15.

    “Those (younger) kids are falling through the cracks, and we have all the support in the world.”

    GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM

    Schools — and the governor — are under intense pressure from parents and communities to reopen campuses as they near the anniversary of their initial March 13 closures. In California, reopening schools has been left to local superintendents, schools boards and employee unions, resulting in a patchwork of school reopenings that’s created a divide between private and public schools.

    Newsom also is putting the Legislature under a time crunch by asking lawmakers to push through his proposed school-reopening grants in the next two weeks and the $4.6 billion learning loss plan by end of March, ahead of the traditional summer deadlines.

    Aided by better-than-projected state revenues, Newsom’s budget plan pays down two-thirds of the schools’ $11 billion in deferrals. It also marks the most significant involvement by the governor in the state’s charged school reopening debate since he introduced reopening guidelines in July that effectively kept most schools closed to start the year.

    During his budget presentation Friday, Newsom affirmed his position that schools should be open for in-person instruction if done safely and spoke of his youngest children’s struggle learning remotely.

    “Those kids are falling through the cracks, and we have all the support in the world,” Newsom said. “I can’t imagine what’s happening for millions of other children. This is why this is so important.”

    But the governor’s reopening plan has come under criticism both from local school leaders who say it would do little to help districts most impacted by the virus, as well as teachers unions pushing against reopening schools as cases climb.

    Los Angeles Unified superintendent Austin Beutner said Monday that the governor’s plan “falls well short of what’s needed to help our schools” because it neither sets across-the-board safety standards nor sets a requirement for when schools should reopen.

    “It leaves the definition of a safe school environment and the standard for reopening classrooms up to the individual discretion of 1,037 school districts across the state, creating a patchwork of safety standards in the face of a statewide health crisis,” Beutner said. “And it reverses a statewide commitment to equity based funding of schools.”

    Beutner, leader of the state’s largest school district, and six other superintendents from large, urban districts raised concerns about Newsom’s reopening plan ahead of its release. The superintendents pushed back against the proposed $2 billion coming out of the state fund earmarked for K-12 schools and community colleges. In a Jan. 6 letter, they said the proposal shuts many of their schools and students out of grant funding because they reside in communities with some of the state’s highest case rates.

    The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office also raised concerns about the reopening plan, writing that the “proposal sets unfeasible time lines” in an analysis of the governor’s budget.

    “(The governor’s plan) leaves the definition of a safe school environment and the standard for reopening classrooms up to the individual discretion of 1,037 school districts across the state, creating a patchwork of safety standards in the face of a statewide health crisis.”

    AUSTIN BEUTNER, LOS ANGELES UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT SUPERINTENDENT

    Suzanne Kitchens, president of the California School Boards Association, praised Newsom’s budget plan for easing the financial strain on schools by paying down most of the deferrals, as well proposing a 3.84% cost-of-living adjustment for schools, but added that “we have work to do on both the school reopening and summer school plans.”

    “While some schools will undoubtedly take advantage of the incentives to reopen schools this spring, others are not in a position to do so given community health concerns, local standards, funding, resource staffing, and capacity limitations,” Kitchens said.


  • 01/07/2021 1:07 PM | Cheryl Casagrande (Administrator)

    California education issues to watch in 2021 — and predictions of what will happen

    POLICY & FINANCE

    JANUARY 6, 2021
    JOHN FENSTERWALDANDYUXUAN XIE

    CREDIT: AL SEIB/LOS ANGELES TIMES/POLARIS

    Kindergarten teacher Jennifer Klein shows students to use their arms to keep social distance on the playground at Lupine Hill Elementary School in Calabasas in November 2020. This is the Las Virgenes Unified School District.

    Were it not for a pandemic ….

    A couple of months into 2020, I was on track to crown myself pundit of the year. Then came Covid in March to create suffering for so many people – and wreck my annual predictions column. I know: it’s shallow to equate the two. But it’s my best excuse.

    This year promises to be no easier than last to forecast, with variables and pitfalls that will defy oddsmakers. But with false humility, I’ll look ahead and assume that like a stopped clock, I’ll get at least one guess right.

    Promise kept?

    In the recession budget that the Legislature adopted last June, Gov. Gavin Newsom agreed to increase spending by 1.5 percent for K-12 schools and community colleges annually, starting in 2021-22 — a commitment that the Legislative Analyst’s Office suggested that he and lawmakers back out of, since revenues are swimmingly good this year. By 2024-25 the extra revenue would grow to about $6.3 billion, the LAO estimated. That’s billions more than what K-14 would have gotten annually in higher commercial property taxes, had Proposition 15 won in November. Newsom nominally supported Prop. 15 and has said that schools need more revenue long-term. School groups and the CTA will try to hold his feet to the fire. Lobbies for cities, counties and social services, who’d lose funding that schools would gain, will fire up their allies to stop him.

    Likelihood that Gov. Newsom will give an extra 1.5% funding beyond the minimum required: 

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    Return to school

    Just before the new year, Newsom offered schools $2 billion in incentives if they’d begin to open up schools to elementary students by Feb. 15 and start testing students and staff for the Covid virus. The money will end up unclaimed. The timing couldn’t have been worse to lay the plan on schools, with hospital ICUs jammed and Covid death tolls rising, and the time frame for districts to negotiate a safety plan with unions and put a testing regimen in place is too short.

    Likelihood that all elementary school students in most of the 10 largest urban districts, for whom the proposal is aimed, will return to school by March 15 if Newsom’s plan remains largely unchanged: 

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    Likelihood that the Legislature will substantially change Newsom’s plan, pushing back the start date to after March 15 and not requiring schools to open if their counties are in the most infectious “purple” tier, as Newsom had outlined: 

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    Deferral dilemma

    When it appeared last spring that state revenues would plummet amid a Covid-spurred recession, the Legislature put off cutting K-12 and community college budgets by deferring $12.5 billion owed to schools until the next fiscal year. That has required districts to dig into savings or borrow short-term. Now that state revenues are running way ahead of projections, the question is whether the state should wipe out the debt fully, or carry over several billion dollars in IOUs, letting districts have more money now to recover from the pandemic. Newsom’s initial position will be to wipe out the debt, but that would change come spring, depending on state revenue projections, districts’ opinions and appeals for more aid from Washington.

    Likelihood that in the final state budget, the state will repay every penny of the $12.5 billion in deferrals adopted a year ago: 

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    Ethnic studies

    After two years, three drafts, tens of thousands of comments and unquantifiable tensions, the final draft model ethnic studies curriculum is ready to go to the State Board of Education in March. Some of the language has been massaged to tone down criticism of capitalism and white oppression and compromises were made with ethnic and religious groups — Sikhs, Jews, Palestinians — who had felt their stories were diminished. But disagreements remain between those who say the critique of oppression has been watered down and those who say it’s still too leftist, bleak and polemical. What’s the state board to do?

    Likelihood that the state board will make minor changes, say it’s time to move on and applaud Newsom for including millions of dollars in the budget to train teachers on how to make sense of a document at odds with itself: 

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    Newsom recall

    Other than their first initials, no one would mistake Gavin Newsom for Gray Davis. Newsom is dynamic; Davis was as colorful as his first name. Even with a pandemic and recession in his face, Newsom still got good marks in the latest PPIC poll, while Davis was unpopular. So far, the nascent effort to recall Newsom has mysterious donors but no big-bucks backer, which the ever-ambitious Congressman Darrell Issa was in 2003. Still, just as agreeing to triple the vehicle license fee led to Davis’ undoing, Newsom’s Achilles heel may be frustrated parents blaming him, rightly or wrongly, for not doing more to reopen schools. Is it coincidence that Newsom’s $2 billion plan to have the first fully masked kids marching to class by Feb. 15 falls one month before the deadline for collecting 1.5 million signatures to put the recall on the ballot?

    Likelihood that recall proponents will narrowly collect enough signatures for a ballot vote?:  

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    Likelihood that Newsom would be recalled if it makes the ballot: 

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    Federal waiver

    Last spring, with Covid forcing schools to close nationwide, California and other states received waivers from annual standardized tests for students in grades 3 to 8 and high school that the federal government requires. An early decision facing incoming Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona is whether to permit waivers for another year. His soon-to-be predecessor, Betsy DeVos, had said she wouldn’t have granted them. Cardona, in his current job as Connecticut’s secretary of education, has said he wouldn’t have sought one. Some civil rights groups back him. Opponents argue administering tests remotely would be impractical and flawed. Bringing back students for the purpose of testing would be cruel.

    There may be room for compromise.

    Likelihood that Cardona will keep testing but with a range of testing options and a longer deadline and not force states to use results for accountability purposes. That will make Joe Biden’s transition adviser for education, California State Board of Education President Linda Darling-Hammond, very happy: 

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    The Endless Summer

    Regardless of whether most students return to school in March, April or May, it won’t be soon enough for them to catch up on the learning they’ve missed and to heal the loneliness and hardship many have experienced in the year away from their friends and teachers. Newsom will propose big money for a lengthy summer program, with a Marshall Plan for disconnected seniors to get their diplomas. Not just the traditional drill and remediate, but also outdoor classes and science projects to remind them that school can be fun. Districts will have flexibility to spend on counseling, tutoring and after-school programs and to create a calendar to accommodate teachers and families. Most districts will augment state funding from their share of $6.8 billion that Congress passed in December for California’s K-12 schools.

    Likelihood all of this will happen: 

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    People shortage

    This year, a shortage of substitute teachers will likely limit some districts’ plans to reopen schools this spring. Next year, the shortage will mushroom as the state sees the biggest wave of retiring teachers and administrators in decades. Sheltered by a pay guarantee this year, many teachers will be enervated from the pressure of Zoom teaching and will call it quits. Veteran principals and superintendents, overwhelmed by family hardships they’ve witnessed and the multiple challenges they’ve risen to meet, from Covid renovations to food distribution, will cash out their CalSTRS pensions.

    Likelihood that school districts, particularly in rural and low-income urban areas, will face a hiring crisis: 

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    Demographics is destiny

    Covid-19 is precipitating demographic changes in California. The flight of unemployed, home-evicted low-income families to cheaper digs and the newfound freedom of middle-class parents to work remotely in Sacramento or Austin, in turn, will accelerate the pace of school enrollment declines in much of the Bay Area and coastal California. Add to that the potential drop in funding from families switching to home schooling or private schools, and Los Angeles, San Diego and other urban districts will have a lot to worry about. The day of reckoning won’t come in 2021-22; districts will get to use this year’s guaranteed level of Covid funding for one more year. But they will start taking real attendance next fall and see dire financial consequences in the numbers. It could get ugly.

    Likelihood of a new wave of job actions by teachers unions for pay raises districts say they can’t afford and lawsuits by charter school denied approval for “financial impact,” starting next fall: 

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    Big school bonds

    The vision of Covid peering on the horizon in early March may have contributed to the defeat of Proposition 13, a $15 billion school facilities bond last March. That and its unlucky number. But the pandemic’s devastation has laid bare the need for a bond, if not two, that the Legislature will consider putting on the spring 2022 ballot.

    In setting the requirements for distance learning last year, the Legislature said districts must provide all students with internet access and a computer. Districts are still short a combination of 1 million hot spots and devices, and a lawsuit makes a good case for arguing a violation of kids’ constitutional right to education opportunity. Districts must find the money for computers, but the state must step forward, working with federal funding yet to come, to lay down fiber and install the antennas to make public broadband a reality.

    The virus’ airborne transmission has exposed the danger that poor classroom ventilation systems pose to children throughout the state — and the lack of state funding to fix them. The problem is there is no statewide inventory to get a handle on the problem. But with dirty air joining leaky roofs as a call to action, the Legislature will vote on a big bond for K-12 and higher ed.Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, has introduced a bill to make it happen.

    Likelihood that Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi’s proposed $10 billion broadband bond will be put on the 2022 ballot: 

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    Likelihood a much smaller one will: 

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    Likelihood that the Legislature will send to voters at least a $10 billion education facilities bond: 

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    Virtually certain

    It may sound Pollyannish now, but the pandemic will change education for the good, in small, big and hard to measure ways. More dual enrollment courses with community colleges will — at least should — go online, open to more students. School districts will experiment with online team teaching and offer AP courses online on weekends and nights. Give districts more flexibility with schedules and instructional minutes — pay attention, Legislature — and they will start to reshape how, where and when schools operate. Teachers will apply the online technologies they’ve learned when they return to the classroom.

    And smart districts will follow the lead of Anaheim Union High School District and Pajaro Valley Unified to establish virtual academies, with separate, skilled staffs to compete with online charter organizations and meet the small but permanent demand for quality distance learning.


  • 01/05/2021 2:53 PM | Cheryl Casagrande (Administrator)

    Quick Guide: How does Gov. Newsom’s “Safe Schools for All” plan work? 

    CORONAVIRUS

    JANUARY 4, 2021
    EDSOURCE STAFF

    PHOTO: RICH PEDRONCEL


    LI/AP PHOTO

    Gov. Gavin Newsom

    On Dec. 30, 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a $2 billion “Safe Schools for All” plan to encourage more schools to reopen for in-person instruction in 2021. The following answers some key questions on how the plan is intended to operate.

    What is the rationale for the plan?

    The Newsom administration believes that “in-person is the best setting to meet not only the core learning needs of students, but also their mental health and social-emotional needs.”

    At the same time, his administration contends that safety is “foundational,” and that “the right precautions can effectively stop the spread of COVID-19 in schools — especially in elementary schools.”

    Will it be safe to bring students back?

    Gov. Newsom believes it is safe to bring students back to school, starting with the earliest grades, if health and safety practices are implemented and followed.

    In a statement accompanying the plan, the administration argued the following:

    • Research across the globe shows that children get COVID-19 less often than adults, and when they do get sick, they get less sick than adults.
    • In studies of open schools in America and around the world, children do not seem to be major sources of transmission — either to each other or to adults.
    • The growing body of evidence is particularly strong for lower risks associated with elementary schools. 
    • Even in communities with many Covid cases, we do not see many outbreaks in schools. That’s because the right precautions can stop outbreaks before they start.

    What incentives are there for districts to participate?

    Districts that participate will receive additional funding: a base amount of $450 per student, plus an additional amount per student based on the number of high needs students (low income students, English learners, foster and homeless children) in their district, as defined by the Local Control Funding Formula. Gov. Newsom said that the extra amount could be as much as $250 per student in addition to the base amount.

    Does Newsom’s plan need legislative approval?

    Yes, and he will need to get it soon in order for the plan to go into effect during the current school year.

    GOING DEEPER

    The California Department of Public Health issued the following documents:

    Summary: California’s Safe School for All Plan, CDPH, December 2020

    Rationale: California’s Safe School for All Plan, CDPH, Dec. 2020

    Evidence Summary: TK-6 Schools and COVID-19 Transmission, Dec. 2020.

    Slide Presentation, Dec. 30, 2020. Contains details not included in above documents. 

    Can all schools participate?

    Only schools in counties with fewer than 28 positive coronavirus cases per 100,000 population can participate. As of Jan. 1, that means most schools won’t be able to participate, as only 11 counties out of 58 in the state have infection rates of less than 28.

    Does the program extend to all children in all grades?

    No, this only applies to children in grades K through 6, plus transitional kindergarten.

    Will schools in counties in the so-called “purple” tier be allowed to reopen?

    Yes, as long as the average daily rate of infections is not higher than 28 per 100,000 residents.

    Will children have to attend schools that reopen?

    No. Schools will still have to offer distance learning for parents who don’t want their children to receive in-person instruction.

    Where will the funds to pay for the program come from?

    They will come out of extra state funding allocated for K-12 schools through the Proposition 98 formula that will be available as a result of an unexpected budget surplus this year. The funding will be included in the budget proposal Newsom is required to make by Jan. 10 for the coming fiscal year.

    What about middle and high school students?

    The proposal is silent on middle and high school students. For now, middle and high school students will continue to study via distance learning unless their schools opened for in-person instruction before their counties entered the “purple” Tier One list, or if they participate in small group classes, learning labs and support centers intended for foster, homeless and other students with the greatest needs.

    Do school districts have to do anything extra to receive the funds?

    Yes. Everyone in a school — both adults and children — have to be tested for the virus on a regular basis, even those who are have no symptoms. For districts in counties with less than an average of 14 positive cases per 100,000, everyone has to be tested every two weeks. In districts with a higher incidence rate, everyone would have to be tested weekly.

    Everyone will be expected to wear masks. But school staff will be required to wear surgical masks, which will be distributed to schools at no cost by the state.

    Who will pay for Covid-19 testing?

    The private health plans that employees already have as well as MediCal for those enrolled in the program are supposed to cover the costs of testing. For individuals who don’t have private insurance or are not enrolled in MediCal, schools districts will presumably have to cover the costs.

    When does the program start?

    The program will be phased in, beginning on February 15 for students in transitional kindergarten through second grade, and for students in the third to sixth grade on March 15. By Feb. 1, districts must submit a Covid safety plan that has the approval of school employee unions and meets the new Cal/OSHA regulations. However, the timeline would be pushed back for districts in counties with high infection rates until the infection rates fall below 28 cases per 100,000 residents.

    How much support and opposition is there to the plan?

    In general, the plan has received considerable support from some superintendents, professional associations and advocacy groups. However, several superintendents raised questions about the feasibility of implementing some health and safety practices, including the costs and logistics of testing that would involve testing of both staff and students.

    What position have the two leading unions taken on the plan?

    The California Teachers Association has expressed lukewarm support for the proposal. “There are many unanswered questions and the devil is always in the details,” said CTA President E. Toby Boyd. He said that the union continues to support in-person instruction, but not in schools in counties that are still on the “purple” Tier One list. “If teachers’ local unions adopt that stance, and counties are still on the “purple” list come February 15, it is unlikely that districts will be able to participate in the reopening plan,” Boyd said.

    Jeff Freitas, president of the California Federation of Teachers, said the plan “is the starting point our state and its schools need to consider for in-person instruction,” but said that schools need to be “funded at a level that supports needed testing, tracing, PPE and high-quality instruction.”

    As for other school workers, Max Arias, Executive Director of SEIU Local 99, said, “we look forward to moving safely and with due caution to more and more in-person instruction.”


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