Photo: Rosedale Union School District/Facebook
General overall view of the entrance at Almondale Elementary School in the Rosedale Union School District amid the global coroinavirus Covid-19 pandemic outbreak in Bakersfield, Calif. on April 2, 2020.

Creating clarity on what the next chapter for schools looks like and getting students safely back into school next fall will be one of the biggest challenges facing our nation’s educational system in modern times.

As districts begin to plan for how they will eventually welcome California students back to classrooms, President Trump and Congress need to put forth a federal education stimulus package that moves our schools toward more stable fiscal ground.

When schools return to their new normal next year, they will be facing what some researchers are calling a COVID-slide, learning loss experienced by many of our most disadvantaged students coupled with traumas associated with unemployment, food insecurities and homelessness that are especially impacting students in urban areas.

According to a new study from the Northwest Evaluation Association, or NWEA, “students will return in fall 2020 with roughly 70 percent of the learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year. However, in mathematics, students are likely to show much smaller learning gains, returning with less than 50 percent of the learning gains and in some grades, nearly a full year behind what we would observe in normal conditions.”

This slide should be of enormous concern to all Californians given the well-established connection between academic success and economic mobility.

We also need to recognize the social and emotional needs for students and for teachers and consider ways that schools can meet those needs.

The work of creating truly responsive learning experiences for students upon re-entry will fall almost exclusively on teachers, and supporting them while recognizing that many of the teachers and leaders in our schools have also struggled through this traumatic situation obligates our systems to pay particular attention to the social and emotional needs of our adults as well.

These realities call for a massive increase in resources.

Unfortunately, in California we are heading in the opposite direction. Los Angeles Unified, the state’s largest district, is confronting $200 million in coronavirus costs thus far and California’s existing school budget challenges were well-documented before the pandemic. Earlier this year, Governor Newsom highlighted increasing financial strains on school districts relating to rising pension obligations and he called rising costs for special education a crisis — in Newsom’s own words, “a real shame.”

A 2018 study aptly titled “the Silent Recession” showed that while state support for public schools in California was increasing, their expenses were rising faster as a result of cost pressures from pensions, health care and special education.

Sadly, just as the need for additional support increases dramatically in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, those previous obligations will now also increase dramatically, principally because the state’s pension system has lost tens of billions in the stock market collapse over the past month, and districts are obligated to pick up the difference.

Health care costs are expected to increase as will the cost for special education in these uncertain times of distance learning. Add all this to the fact that that schools get 58 percent of their revenues from the state and another 32 percent from other sources and the state is particularly vulnerable to swings in the stock market, and we can safely assume the potential for significant shortfalls to education funding, while school costs significantly increase and students’ need explode.

Indeed, this is the perfect tsunami about to crash on California’s 6 million students.

It is distressing to think that the students in the graduating class of 2021 were kindergartners in 2008, beginning their schooling in the previous economic downturn and amidst massive school budget reductions. During their early years in public schools, pink slips and cutbacks were symbols of the times. Collectively as an education community we will be experiencing this déjà vu and even much greater financial challenges than ever before.

Recognizing the impact on our schools, beginning in 2008, the federal government funneled nearly $7 billion in stimulus funding to California through the American Resource and Recovery Act. In Long Beach Unified, to name one district, that translated to $108 million in federal stimulus funding from 2008 to 2011. In 2020, facing a significantly larger challenge, initial relief funding for Long Beach in response to the coronavirus pandemic totaled $1.2 million from the state and an estimated $10 to $15 million from the feds.

Our teachers, students and schools need substantially more federal stimulus funding than the $1.6 billion federal investment thus far. President Trump and Congress need to recognize the coming tsunami and in the next round of relief funding prioritize education — our kids are counting on them.

•••

Rick Miller is executive director of the CORE Districts, a collaboration of the some of the state’s largest school districts situated in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Fresno, Garden Grove, Santa Ana, Sacramento, Oakland and San Francisco. Rick was elected to the Rocklin Unified School board in 2018 where he currently serves as President.

The opinions in this commentary are those of the author. Commentaries published on EdSource represent viewpoints from EdSource’s broad audience. As an independent, non-partisan organization, EdSource does not take a position on legislation or policy. We welcome guest commentaries representing diverse perspectives. If you would like to submit a commentary, please review our commentary guidelines and contact us.

To get more reports like this one, click here to sign up for EdSource’s no-cost daily email on latest developments in education.

Share Article

Comments (2)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * *

Comments Policy

We welcome your comments. All comments are moderated for civility, relevance and other considerations. Click here for EdSource's Comments Policy.

  1. Pam Kelly 6 months ago6 months ago

    I have been teaching kindergarten for the last 18 years. Every kinder and first through third grade teacher can tell you that it would be impossible to have children attend school while social distancing. Even if we had 10 students at a in class, social distancing would be impossible, especially on the playground. It is in a child's nature to interact and learn at a closer ditance than 6 feet. If we stagger student attendance … Read More

    I have been teaching kindergarten for the last 18 years. Every kinder and first through third grade teacher can tell you that it would be impossible to have children attend school while social distancing. Even if we had 10 students at a in class, social distancing would be impossible, especially on the playground. It is in a child’s nature to interact and learn at a closer ditance than 6 feet. If we stagger student attendance throughout the day, during transitioning of students on and off campus there will still be 400-500 people on campus at the same time.

    I haven’t heard of a model yet for returning to school that would meet social distancing criteria. There is no way to modify children attending school with social distancing in place. Additionally, no one had brought up the 60 and over teachers that are still going strong and not ready to retire, who can’t go on campus but are under contract to get paid but won’t be able to return to the classroom.

    Where will the money come from to pay those teachers who are not near retirement and their subs until all regulations are lifted? From this article, I can see there is definitely no money for that.

  2. Dan Plonsey 6 months ago6 months ago

    I'm reading this editorial hours after reading that Mitch McConnell has proposed allowing states to declare bankruptcy, rather than receive the additional federal funding called for here. Why? Because, McConnell states, he doesn't want states to use federal money to fund the rising pension obligations mentioned here by Mr. Miller (obligations caused by the greed of Wall Street). In other words, McConnell hopes to use this crisis to achieve what the billionaires have long wanted: … Read More

    I’m reading this editorial hours after reading that Mitch McConnell has proposed allowing states to declare bankruptcy, rather than receive the additional federal funding called for here. Why? Because, McConnell states, he doesn’t want states to use federal money to fund the rising pension obligations mentioned here by Mr. Miller (obligations caused by the greed of Wall Street). In other words, McConnell hopes to use this crisis to achieve what the billionaires have long wanted: to rob the pension funds for retired public employees. It would be good of Mr. Miller to rewrite his editorial in light of that threat, because we are going to hear more of the same argument: that greedy teachers are the obstacle to student needs; that supposedly we must choose between teachers’ needs and kids.

    I am also concerned by Miller’s assertion: “This [educational] slide should be of enormous concern to all Californians given the well-established connection between academic success and economic mobility.” That’s the neoliberal claim. In fact, as Joseph Stiglitz and others have shown, the US has very little economic mobility because of the tremendously successful efforts at rent-seeking by the 0.1%, which includes using the markedly unequal results of public education to justify the success of the offspring of the most privileged.

    Lastly, CA has hardly tapped its own resources in funding public schools! There is a lot of money in CA squirreled away in a very few hands.