Photo credit: Allison Shelley for American Education

A sign outside a classroom helps students understand what different facial expressions look like when wearing a mask in school.

Photo credit: Allison Shelley for American Education

A sign outside a classroom helps students understand what different facial expressions look like when wearing a mask in school.

The superintendents of seven urban school districts, including the four largest in the state, have strongly criticized Governor Gavin’s funding plan, which allows the districts to reopen classrooms as early as February 15.

They urge the governor to devise a different funding plan that takes into account their particular needs and warns, “If nothing changes, many students in needy communities are at risk of being left behind.”

Their criticism in a letter dated Jan. 6 shows that they will no longer pursue the funding incentives for the reopening of the school, which Newsom has tied to a number of proposed requirements. The united boroughs are Los Angeles, San Diego, Long Beach, Fresno, Oakland, San Francisco, and Sacramento City.

“A funding model that only supports schools in communities less affected by the virus goes against California’s longstanding efforts to provide more support to low-income students,” they argue. “It also reverses a decades-long commitment to equity-based financing.”

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While Newsom’s Safe Schools for All has been labeled a “start towards recovery,” their 7-page letter outlined the actions the state should take. They include:

  • Full and separate government funding for staff and student Covid testing in addition to standard district funding. Newsom is proposing $ 2 billion from Proposition 98, the formula that determines the K-12 portion of the General Fund, for districts that have transition kindergarten to 2nd grade by February 15 and in send 3rd to 6th grade. Districts would receive between $ 450 and $ 700 per student, depending on enrollment for English learners, low-income, cared for, and homeless youth. Most of the 7 districts would receive much more than the minimum funding that could cover the cost of administering and collecting samples for the tests. Employee insurance, private insurers and the state Medi-Cal would cover most of the cost of the tests that a state-funded laboratory in Valencia would perform.
  • Creation of a set of nationwide, uniform Covid protocols after “coordination” with the union leaders. This is instead of districts and counties negotiating their own agreements. All seven districts have strong teacher unions who have delayed early return to class due to safety issues. Once established, the state should require all schools to return to school, the letter said. “No local stakeholder – whether superintendent, school board, work partner or community organization – should have an effective veto against reopening classrooms,” the superintendent said.
  • An “immediate, all-hands-on-deck” government effort to tackle the spread of the virus in low-income communities – the predominant neighborhoods in the districts – where unemployment and Covid rates are high. “Public health officials must address this challenge head on, or else we will have more of it: persistently high virus rates in low-income communities making it unsafe to reopen classrooms,” the letter said.
  • The designation of school-based health centers as providers of Covid tests and vaccinations so that these can be reimbursed as well as cities and third-party providers such as CVS Pharmacy.
  • Immediate government funding for the summer school and creation of “Learning Loss Recovery Plans”. Newsom announced last week that it would provide information on summer funding when the state budget is presented on Friday.
  • More money for students with disabilities once there is personal tuition.

The seven superintendents argue that under the governor’s plan, they would be denied funding due to covid infection rates they cannot control, they said.

Under Newsom’s plan, districts couldn’t send students back to school until infection rates dropped below 28 cases per 100,000 population. This would currently exclude most counties, but rates in rural and more affluent areas are likely to fall below the threshold earlier than urban areas, creating inequalities, the superintendents said. Their districts are unlikely to meet Newsom’s February 15 or even March 15 reopening target, they said.

Dozens of school districts in Orange, San Diego, Kern, Marin, and suburban and rural areas had begun sending some students back to school before the recent boom. These districts could reopen, but they would only receive additional funding if they passed a rigorous testing scheme and union-sponsored checklist of safety precautions.

Boroughs would get more funding per student under Newsom’s proposed stock-based formula – only that would be delayed until their infection rates drop below 28 cases per 100,000. In the meantime, districts like Los Angeles and San Diego that have started extensive testing would not receive any refunds.

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