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Governor, state Legislature reach $2B deal for schools to reopen by March 31

Vote expected Thursday on new law that decreases extra funding if campuses fail to bring students back

An empty courtyard at Fletcher Middle School in Palo Alto on April 3, 2020. A new California law would push schools to reopen by March 31 for in-person learning or risk losing state funds. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

UPDATE: Gov. Gavin Newsom on March 5 signed the $6.6 billion legislative package that lawmakers had passed the day before intended to support the statewide reopening of grades K-6 by the end of the month and grades 7-12 in early April. The package includes $2 billion in grants to support safety measures for students and educators returning to in-person classes, including personal protective equipment, improvements to classroom ventilation and regular coronavirus testing. The remaining $4.6 billion will fund voluntary learning expansions, including extending the school year into the summer, tutoring to make up for learning lost amid the pandemic and mental health services for students.

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California lawmakers are expected to pass a new bill Thursday that would push — though not require — school districts across the state to reopen for in-person instruction by the end of March.

The duo of bills, SB 86 and AB 86, provides $2 billion to school districts to support reopening schools as part of a larger, $6.6 billion education funding package. The extra cash is meant to encourage districts to welcome teachers, students and staff back on campus, and can be used for anything from personal protective equipment and improving classroom ventilation to COVID-19 testing efforts.

The catch is that school districts have until March 31 to reopen in order to tap into the full funding. For every day that passes, starting April 1, school districts lose 1% of their share of the money, and forfeit all of the money if they fail to reopen prior to May 15.

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While the bills stop short of compelling school districts to open by a firm deadline, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he expects "tremendous momentum" in school districts changing their tune and reopening for the first time since March last year.

"We want school districts to reopen, period, full stop. I've been saying it for months," Newsom said at a press conference on Monday, March 1. "We believe they can safely reopen, we believe the data and the science bear that out."

Legislative leaders and Newsom reportedly struck a deal on the bill on Feb. 28, which seeks to end months of strained negotiations with labor groups and school organizations seeking a slower, more cautious approach to bringing back in-person instruction. The powerful California Teachers Association has previously advocated that no schools reopen in counties that are in the purple tier, California's designation for the worst regions when it comes to case rates, community spread and hospitalizations for COVID-19.

AB 86 and SB 86 take a different approach. To avoid losing state funding, school districts in the purple tier will be required to provide in-person instruction to young children — transitional kindergarten through second grade — by the end of March. Districts must also reopen for at-risk students in all grades, including English learners, homeless and foster youth, and students without a computer or an internet connection needed to participate in online instruction.

For counties in the red tier, the standards are much higher. Funding is contingent on elementary schools opening for children at all grade levels, as well as one full grade level at the middle school and high school level. State health officials are expected to move Santa Clara County into the red tier this week. San Mateo County moved to the red tier on Feb. 24.

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Newsom said he intends to sign the bill shortly after it comes to a vote in the state Legislature this Thursday, March 4.

Though the bill gives a semblance of a timeline, it does not compel schools to reopen at the end of the month and grants significant flexibility for how to spend the money. School districts could, for example, hire long-term substitutes to replace teachers who are unable or unwilling to return due to health concerns. Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, said the bill allows districts to develop their own plans to meet their unique needs, and will incentivize schools reopening sooner rather than later.

"Parents can now take a sigh of relief in knowing that the legislature and the governor are working to get kids back in the classroom in a safe and healthy way for both children and teachers," Cooper said.

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, said she and her colleagues have been working overtime and on weekends to come to an agreement on the bill, which must take into account the needs of school staff ranging from food services and janitors to teachers. Some teachers are eager to return to the classroom, she said, while others are over age 65, taking care of vulnerable family members or are taking care of their own kids, and they need to be accounted for in the bill.

"You cannot reduce any of this to a couple of sound bites," she said.

As the bill makes its way over the finish line, Newsom said the state will be setting aside a minimum of 75,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, or 10% of the total supply, to vaccinate teachers and school staff. Both Santa Clara and San Mateo counties have revised vaccine eligibility guidelines in recent weeks to include school staffers.

Assemblyman Marc Berman, D-Menlo Park, said in a statement that the deal between the governor and the legislature, along with the newly available vaccines, means there are now enough resources to get schools reopened across California, and that school districts should move quickly to bring back in-person instruction while abiding by the state's safety protocols.

"We need to open up our schools and get students back in the classroom for in-person instruction as quickly and safely as possible," Berman said. "The data is clear that too many students have been suffering, both academically and in their mental health, since we closed schools down to in-person instruction."

Newsom touted that the state has now administered more than 9 million vaccinations, and that the positivity rate for COVID-19 tests has dropped down to 2.3%. Returning to normalcy, however, is contingent on getting children back to school, he said.

"You can't reopen your economy unless you get your schools reopened for in-person instruction," he said. "We are all united in coming back safely into the schools and helping with the social and emotional supports that our kids so desperately need."

The expectation is that all schools in California will be reopened in the fall, Newsom said.

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.

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Kevin Forestieri writes for the Mountain View Voice, a sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

Follow Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Weekly on Twitter @paloaltoweekly, Facebook and on Instagram @paloaltoonline for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Governor, state Legislature reach $2B deal for schools to reopen by March 31

Vote expected Thursday on new law that decreases extra funding if campuses fail to bring students back

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Mon, Mar 1, 2021, 2:10 pm
Updated: Tue, Mar 2, 2021, 10:30 am

UPDATE: Gov. Gavin Newsom on March 5 signed the $6.6 billion legislative package that lawmakers had passed the day before intended to support the statewide reopening of grades K-6 by the end of the month and grades 7-12 in early April. The package includes $2 billion in grants to support safety measures for students and educators returning to in-person classes, including personal protective equipment, improvements to classroom ventilation and regular coronavirus testing. The remaining $4.6 billion will fund voluntary learning expansions, including extending the school year into the summer, tutoring to make up for learning lost amid the pandemic and mental health services for students.

------------

California lawmakers are expected to pass a new bill Thursday that would push — though not require — school districts across the state to reopen for in-person instruction by the end of March.

The duo of bills, SB 86 and AB 86, provides $2 billion to school districts to support reopening schools as part of a larger, $6.6 billion education funding package. The extra cash is meant to encourage districts to welcome teachers, students and staff back on campus, and can be used for anything from personal protective equipment and improving classroom ventilation to COVID-19 testing efforts.

The catch is that school districts have until March 31 to reopen in order to tap into the full funding. For every day that passes, starting April 1, school districts lose 1% of their share of the money, and forfeit all of the money if they fail to reopen prior to May 15.

While the bills stop short of compelling school districts to open by a firm deadline, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he expects "tremendous momentum" in school districts changing their tune and reopening for the first time since March last year.

"We want school districts to reopen, period, full stop. I've been saying it for months," Newsom said at a press conference on Monday, March 1. "We believe they can safely reopen, we believe the data and the science bear that out."

Legislative leaders and Newsom reportedly struck a deal on the bill on Feb. 28, which seeks to end months of strained negotiations with labor groups and school organizations seeking a slower, more cautious approach to bringing back in-person instruction. The powerful California Teachers Association has previously advocated that no schools reopen in counties that are in the purple tier, California's designation for the worst regions when it comes to case rates, community spread and hospitalizations for COVID-19.

AB 86 and SB 86 take a different approach. To avoid losing state funding, school districts in the purple tier will be required to provide in-person instruction to young children — transitional kindergarten through second grade — by the end of March. Districts must also reopen for at-risk students in all grades, including English learners, homeless and foster youth, and students without a computer or an internet connection needed to participate in online instruction.

For counties in the red tier, the standards are much higher. Funding is contingent on elementary schools opening for children at all grade levels, as well as one full grade level at the middle school and high school level. State health officials are expected to move Santa Clara County into the red tier this week. San Mateo County moved to the red tier on Feb. 24.

Newsom said he intends to sign the bill shortly after it comes to a vote in the state Legislature this Thursday, March 4.

Though the bill gives a semblance of a timeline, it does not compel schools to reopen at the end of the month and grants significant flexibility for how to spend the money. School districts could, for example, hire long-term substitutes to replace teachers who are unable or unwilling to return due to health concerns. Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, said the bill allows districts to develop their own plans to meet their unique needs, and will incentivize schools reopening sooner rather than later.

"Parents can now take a sigh of relief in knowing that the legislature and the governor are working to get kids back in the classroom in a safe and healthy way for both children and teachers," Cooper said.

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, said she and her colleagues have been working overtime and on weekends to come to an agreement on the bill, which must take into account the needs of school staff ranging from food services and janitors to teachers. Some teachers are eager to return to the classroom, she said, while others are over age 65, taking care of vulnerable family members or are taking care of their own kids, and they need to be accounted for in the bill.

"You cannot reduce any of this to a couple of sound bites," she said.

As the bill makes its way over the finish line, Newsom said the state will be setting aside a minimum of 75,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, or 10% of the total supply, to vaccinate teachers and school staff. Both Santa Clara and San Mateo counties have revised vaccine eligibility guidelines in recent weeks to include school staffers.

Assemblyman Marc Berman, D-Menlo Park, said in a statement that the deal between the governor and the legislature, along with the newly available vaccines, means there are now enough resources to get schools reopened across California, and that school districts should move quickly to bring back in-person instruction while abiding by the state's safety protocols.

"We need to open up our schools and get students back in the classroom for in-person instruction as quickly and safely as possible," Berman said. "The data is clear that too many students have been suffering, both academically and in their mental health, since we closed schools down to in-person instruction."

Newsom touted that the state has now administered more than 9 million vaccinations, and that the positivity rate for COVID-19 tests has dropped down to 2.3%. Returning to normalcy, however, is contingent on getting children back to school, he said.

"You can't reopen your economy unless you get your schools reopened for in-person instruction," he said. "We are all united in coming back safely into the schools and helping with the social and emotional supports that our kids so desperately need."

The expectation is that all schools in California will be reopened in the fall, Newsom said.

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.

Kevin Forestieri writes for the Mountain View Voice, a sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

Comments

Nayeli
Registered user
Midtown
on Mar 2, 2021 at 9:12 am
Nayeli, Midtown
Registered user
on Mar 2, 2021 at 9:12 am

Interesting. This is good news. However, what is a "welcoming package?" Is there a breakdown available that shows how this extra $2 BILLION will be spent? It would be nice if the requirement is that this money can ONLY be spent on pandemic safety and not superficial things (including raises, salaries or bonuses).


Palo Alto parent
Registered user
Charleston Meadows
on Mar 2, 2021 at 11:08 am
Palo Alto parent, Charleston Meadows
Registered user
on Mar 2, 2021 at 11:08 am

Do they have a definition of "in-person instruction" established? If "zoom from the room" and partial days (or hours) in school are acceptable to receive the incentive - it's a loophole, it defeats the purpose, and doesn't serve the children much good. Especially if it's allowed to continue into the next school year. In-person instruction with minimum screens is essential for our children, and long overdue.


Jennifer
Registered user
another community
on Mar 2, 2021 at 12:56 pm
Jennifer, another community
Registered user
on Mar 2, 2021 at 12:56 pm

Newsom shouldn't have to come up with a $2 billion deal to have schools reopen. He should have the guts to force schools to reopen. If he has the power to force shutdowns, he has the power to force schools to reopen. If "too many students have been suffering" (and they have) why give them an option?


Anonymous
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 2, 2021 at 1:27 pm
Anonymous, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Mar 2, 2021 at 1:27 pm

Odd way to incentivize schools to open. Never mind schools finish the “school year” soon - early May (some early June - it varies).
A good portion > 25% I believe of existing CA state budget already goes to public education.
Oakland has always been lavished with public funds. It has been plagued by corrupt leadership dating back many decades.
There are various levels of bureaucracy that ought to be reduced.
School districts that combined have been fine (I realize government bureaucrats don’t like this) for example Whisman merged with Mt View elementary diatrict nearby us and the roof didn’t cave in.
Meanwhile, in the real world....I thought some public schools (and many, many private) were already operating safely. They certainly are in other states.
Why are such huge additional amounts now demanded by the California Teachers Association union (CTA)? I think they are telling the governor what to do ($$$) rather than “following the Science.” For one thing, state of CA own sources indicate majority of public teachers aren’t really middleaged (biggest cohort 30-46) so not at much risk if Covid illness compared to the general public 50-64. Naturally, teachers aged 50 + fully entitled to accommodation (remote) and should be vaccinated with rest of us 50+. Our state has chosen to privilege ALL teachers, including young who are at LOW risk of falling ill from Covid. Rest of us likely will receive lower efficacy vaccine. No wonder privileged broups are rushing to get superior efficacy vaccine! But young ought not to. CA is Ageist.


The Voice of Palo Alto
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Mar 2, 2021 at 7:07 pm
The Voice of Palo Alto, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Mar 2, 2021 at 7:07 pm

“Returning to normalcy, however, is contingent on getting children back to school, he said. "You can't reopen your economy unless you get your schools reopened for in-person instruction”
Thank you to Newsom today for proving the point of my many previous comments here at the weekly. I have stated repeatedly here that the push to reopen schools is mainly a political push to reopen our economy. This is also why teachers/day care are getting vaccine priority. The goal of the financial elite is to push the working class back to work by retuning children to schools and their parents back to jobs for corporate profits. This is all under the guise of a big lie that “the science says schools are safe.” Out of all of the things that have had to close during the pandemic like gyms, churches, and small businesses, the science just happens to say the schools are safe. Sure... If there is truly some unique science that points to schools miraculously being a bastion safety during this pandemic, then let’s take that same science and reapply it to private companies, gyms, etc. so that we can reopen everything and all go back to normal. Schools should not be opened until all teachers are fully vaccinated as well as the adults in the surrounding communities. In a twist of irony, the teachers are now being vaccinated and it is now the unvaccinated vocal parents that endangered school staff by demanding unsafe school reopenings that will be in danger by sending their children into school buildings. This isn’t an issue about private schools vs public schools, the monolithic teacher’s union, or the Government’s sudden worry about the mental health of children. This has always been a worker’s rights issue regarding health and safety. If it wasn’t about the economy, why not just vaccinate, drive the numbers down completely, and then reopen schools in the fall? (sorry Me2!) Finally, case numbers are improving but at the same time new variants are spreading.


Curious Parent
Registered user
Community Center
on Mar 2, 2021 at 8:41 pm
Curious Parent, Community Center
Registered user
on Mar 2, 2021 at 8:41 pm

Voice of Palo Alto said:
"If it wasn’t about the economy, why not just vaccinate, drive the numbers down completely, and then reopen schools in the fall? (sorry Me2!) Finally, case numbers are improving but at the same time new variants are spreading."

@VofPA, when my child started their first day of kindergarten, they sounded so similar..."Why do I have to go to school?", "I promise I'll go tomorrow", "What if I hate it?", "What if the other kids are mean to me?". I sat them down and told them that they'd be ok. Was I 100% sure that nothing would happen...of course not...but going to school was the right thing to do.

@VofPA...You'll be ok. You're stronger than your fear. You got this!!!


The Voice of Palo Alto
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Mar 2, 2021 at 11:44 pm
The Voice of Palo Alto, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Mar 2, 2021 at 11:44 pm

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