Credit: Michael Burke/EdSource
Lucerne Valley Elementary in San Bernardino County reopened with extensive safety protocols.
This story was updated at 10 a.m. Jan. 1 to include details and reactions to the Covid-19 testing requirement in Gov. Newsom's plan.

Gov. Gavin Newsom presented a $2 billion proposal for financial incentives Wednesday to prod school districts to bring back elementary school students for in-person instruction, starting in mid-February.

School districts would receive extra funding — from $450 to about $700 per student — if they agreed to a timetable for reopening schools, a rigorous regimen of testing both students and staff for the virus, and a strict health and safety plan that teachers and employee unions would have to consent to. Newsom said more details would be available with the state budget next week.

Districts would receive a minimum of $450 for every student in the district, plus additional money per student, based on the Local Control Funding Formula. It provides extra money for English learners, homeless, foster and low-income students.

Districts would receive the funding if they offered in-person instruction from transitional kindergarten (TK) to second grade in the first phase, starting Feb. 15, and for third to sixth-graders in the second phase, a month later. Districts would get full funding, regardless of how many parents decided to continue with distance learning. They would also have to agree to bring back small cohorts of students of all ages with the most needs, including homeless and foster children and students with disabilities, whom Newsom said have been disproportionately affected by the shift to distance learning.

He said his strategy is consistent with his administration’s position, which since summer has permitted waivers for TK through sixth grade for schools that are in the state’s Tier 1 “purple” list. As of this week, the state had approved 1,732 such waivers, many of them to private and parochial schools.

Under the new plan, districts with schools that already have physically reopened could continue to operate, but they would need to meet the new testing requirements and have an updated safety plan negotiated with employee unions to receive the additional funding.

A major hurdle districts would have to overcome to participate in the program are high rates of covid infections. According to the rules announced by Newsom, schools would only be able to participate if the average rate of infections in their counties over a 7 day period was less than 28 cases per 100,000 residents.  Even though that is four times the rate districts in “purple” counties are now allowed to open under the waiver program, it is still far lower than the infection rates in many counties.

Currently 45 out of 58 counties have higher infection rates.  The timeframe for districts in those counties would begin after the caseload had dropped below 28 per 100,000. (For the current list of infection rates, go to CDPH website here,  click on “explore the complete data by county,”  and see column J). 

Another would be to convince teachers to participate, another stipulation of the program.  Asked during a press briefing whether the new funding would be enough to entice unions to agree to return within the next two months, Newsom said that teachers’ love of teaching would provide the motivation. “The greatest incentive is the inspiration that spark that led someone to want to contribute in such a profound and dignified way by educating the minds of the next generation,” he said. “So I don’t know that that needs to be much more impetus than that.”

But he also pointed out that districts already have received nearly $7 billion in federal CARES Act money. Much of that funding was spent by Dec. 31, however. Newsom did not mention the additional $6.8 billion that California is expectedto receive for K-12 schools in 2021 from the Covid relief package that Congress approved before Christmas and President Trump signed into law this week.

The state would be offering districts a discounted rate of less than $55 per Covid test through the new testing lab in Valencia, which the state built in partnership with the diagnostics company PerkinElmer. Districts would get priority service, Newsom said. Districts would have to pick up additional non-lab costs, which could be expensive, but Newsom indicated employees’ own health insurance and Medi-Cal, for those enrolled in the program, would pick up part of the tab.

Previous state guidelines had encouraged testing employees once every other month. Under the new plan, students would be tested as well. A county’s infection rate would determine the intensity of the testing: weekly where the virus is widespread (in the upper range of the purple tier, between 14 and 28 cases per 100,000) to biweekly testing or testing only students with symptoms of the virus in the lower infection tiers of red, orange and yellow.

Tatia Davenport, CEO of the California Association School Business Officers or CASBO, said that creating the infrastructure for administering student testing would be an ambitious and  expensive logistical challenge that school districts had not anticipated, and might deter some districts from joining the program.

“There was no meaningful dialogue(with the school districts)  on what testing would require before the plan was released,” she said.

It’s unclear whether the additional funding, safety and testing requirements would also help persuade teachers to return to school once they have been vaccinated for Covid. To meet the Feb. 15 reopening date for TK-2, school districts would need to complete labor negotiations and submit a safety plan by Feb. 1 for the first phase. Those deadlines would be subject to the state of the pandemic and infections rates that have soared this month.

On Wednesday Newsom also named Dr. Naomi Bardach, an associate professor of pediatrics and policy at UCSF, to head an inter-agency “Safe Schools for All Team.” Newsom described her as “one of the leading experts on issues related to epidemiology and transmission of viruses in our public schools.” Bardach has been a prominent voice in arguing that with the right health and safety protocols it is safe to bring students (especially in elementary grades) back to school.

“We should put aside the specter of the 6-year-old viral vector still trying to figure out how to use a tissue, and realize that we can control transmission if we follow public health principles … on masking, physical distancing and more,” she wrote in an op-ed piece in the New York Times last fall. “This will require real money be spent on our chronically underfunded schools. But it can be done.”

In a statement Wednesday, CTA President E. Toby Boyd withheld support for Newsom’s plan pending more information while praising him for “finally recognizing what CTA, for months, has been advocating” for the return to in-person instruction: tighter safety standards, rigorous and consistent testing, data collection and transparency. But he reiterated his opposition to reopening any schools that fall in the purple tier. That position is at odds with Newsom’s proposal. The governor said that data and medical evidence support bringing back students in highly infected regions, as along as strict safety protocols are obeyed. The youngest students are less receptive to the virus, and there has been little transmission among students or to teachers in schools, he said.

Newsom also has been getting considerable pressure from parent groups and some legislators to require school districts to reopen if they met a range of health and safety requirements. Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, who chairs the Assembly Budget Committee, is the lead author of a bill that would require all school districts to adopt plans by March 1 laying out the return of students to school.

But Newsom said he has worked closely with legislative leaders. He singled out Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, who chairs the Assembly Education Committee and is a co-author of Ting’s Assembly Bill 10, and Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, who chairs the Senate Education Committee.

Newsom would need quick Legislative approval of the $2 billion expenditure, which would be funded by Proposition 98, the formula that determines the portion of the state budget allotted to K-12 and community colleges. Because revenues so far this year have exceeded projections in the budget, despite the pandemic-precipitated recession, Newsom is expected to have a one-time windfall of around $15 billion in Prop. 98 in the next budget, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

In a joint statement, superintendents of Los Angeles Unified and six other large urban districts said they welcomed Newsom’s efforts to make the reopening of public school classrooms a priority and would issue a lengthier comment next week. “It will take a coordinated effort at the state and local levels to reopen classrooms as soon as possible while protecting the health and safety of all in the school community,” they said. Superintendents of San Diego, Long Beach, Fresno, San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento City unified districts, with 1 million students, also signed on.

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  1. Robert lee Swain 4 months ago4 months ago

    It is time to get our students back in the classroom. The damage that prolonged absence can cause can be life long. I support this 2 billion dollar proposal as long as some form of control over how the money is spent is put in place. The money needs to go directly to the operation of the classroom and the safety of students and teachers. I hope there will be no pork … Read More

    It is time to get our students back in the classroom. The damage that prolonged absence can cause can be life long. I support this 2 billion dollar proposal as long as some form of control over how the money is spent is put in place. The money needs to go directly to the operation of the classroom and the safety of students and teachers.

    I hope there will be no pork barrel funds related to this proposal that will take away form the students’ benefits.

  2. K McDonald 4 months ago4 months ago

    You’d think that after months of having their kids at home that people would start taking this seriously and really avoid large gatherings. However the opposite is true in California, which is why are cases have increased significantly.

    Somehow people think they have the right to not be cautious and then send their kids to school to infect others but those that will be serving them have to put their lives in danger. This logically doesn’t make sense.

  3. Gina 4 months ago4 months ago

    Where has this money been all along? Schools have been underfunded for years and now all of a sudden there’s money. Give me a break! Also, how about motivating teachers by paying us more. This plan means the district gets money, which doesn’t necessarily mean that teachers get any of it directly.

  4. Sandra Butler 4 months ago4 months ago

    Only students who wear masks should return. It’s too dangerous to return students who don’t wear masks consistently. Those who don’t wear masks consistently should be sent home ASAP. 15 minutes is all it takes to infect someone.

  5. Paula Brannon 4 months ago4 months ago

    I see that the funding to help districts pay for testing is proposed… What about vaccines? I’m willing to go back in-person with my students with Covid-19 safety protocols in purple tier if I’ve been vaccinated so I don’t inadvertently infect my high-risk child at home.

  6. Joel 4 months ago4 months ago

    So the ultimate reason money is being thrown at this is not because elementary education is suffering, but because there's pressure from parents who can't handle filling whatever gap exists (if there really is one) due to distance learning. Special need kids, I get it. But for the rest, what's the big deal with continuing distance learning until every other aspect of our lives returns to "normal"? How is the current situation any different than … Read More

    So the ultimate reason money is being thrown at this is not because elementary education is suffering, but because there’s pressure from parents who can’t handle filling whatever gap exists (if there really is one) due to distance learning. Special need kids, I get it. But for the rest, what’s the big deal with continuing distance learning until every other aspect of our lives returns to “normal”? How is the current situation any different than home schooling which has been around for decades? If anything it’s home schooling on steroids given the ability to do video conferencing.

    How about incentivizing the parents who are applying the pressure by spending $2 billion and buying them some big-boy stretch pants to put on so they can suck it up and adapt for a little while longer?

    Replies

    • Kimmy B 4 months ago4 months ago

      Hey Joel,
      FYI- homeschooling parents typically don’t work outside the home. Please try to educate three elementary students, while the adults are all forced to work outside the home all day, for almost a year, and then let’s talk about pulling up our stretchy pants. So easy to comment from the cheap seats. I would haste to guess that you are a government employee who has been pulling your salary from sitting at home?

      • Dena D 3 months ago3 months ago

        So Kimmy B, are you implying that teachers are "pulling our salaries from sitting at home?" Please clarify. I can honestly say, for myself and many other colleagues whom have been teaching from home for almost a year now), that I have never worked this hard in my 25 previous years of teaching. The amount of research (learning new curriculum which is computer-based), technology skills and programs/platforms, troubleshooting technology issues for my own computers as … Read More

        So Kimmy B, are you implying that teachers are “pulling our salaries from sitting at home?” Please clarify. I can honestly say, for myself and many other colleagues whom have been teaching from home for almost a year now), that I have never worked this hard in my 25 previous years of teaching. The amount of research (learning new curriculum which is computer-based), technology skills and programs/platforms, troubleshooting technology issues for my own computers as well as for my students, learning new methods of teaching 7 year olds how to read in a virtual setting, how to maneuver on a mouse pad, how to type on a keyboard, classroom management in an online format, keeping kids engaged in lessons that may be interrupted by lags in internet accessibility…

        The list goes on and on; doing this every single day while helping my own children with their online learning, taking care of my elderly grandmother, taking care of myself (being a single mother and being immunocompromised), and worrying about my students’ well-being …. I’m not just “sitting at home.”

        I know my students would learn better face-to-face. I’ve taught for 25 years, face-to-face. I miss seeing my own friends everyday at work. Teachers are making huge sacrifices teaching from home. I don’t get to bed before midnight, ever. I wish people who think teachers are just “being lazy” would bite their tongue and remember last March and April. Remember how parents were thanking teachers for their efforts because that’s when parents realized how hard teaching really is.

        Parents are now realizing after only one year, that it is hard to teach, and most parents are only having to teach a small fraction (their own kids) of the number of kids teachers teach every day. And yes, many of us teachers have to then take care of our own kids and households after we have been online teaching your kids.

        So please Kimmy B, take a step back and try to evaluate what you are actually upset about. Is it that you are in a profession that requires you to leave your home to do your job and you are envious of teachers who “get to stay and pull their salary from sitting at home”? I will gladly go back into the classroom and teach face-to-face when I am vaccinated. I will not take the risk of getting Covid, losing my paycheck which could cause me to lose my house, infect my elderly grandmother, and/or my own children just so I can accommodate parents who are tired of helping their kids with online learning.

        We are all being inconvenienced by this pandemic. The last thing teachers (or anybody for that matter) need is to be invalidated and criticized by somebody who has not walked in our shoes. If I misinterpreted your post, I apologize. It struck a nerve with me when you accused somebody of not pulling their weight when their opinion and/or experience did not agree with yours. Please be kind. We are all struggling with our “new normal,” which isn’t normal at all.

  7. Aaron Hackett 4 months ago4 months ago

    Yesterday more than 400 people died in California from Covid, yet that doesn’t stop the empty-headed openers from demanding that we shove teachers and students back into classrooms as if the death numbers wouldn’t be much worse if schools had been open all this time.

  8. Elle 4 months ago4 months ago

    Will mask be required for all grades including K-2nd? Right now many of the youngest classes are filled with unmasked students.

  9. Larry 4 months ago4 months ago

    I’m with Tovah on this one!

  10. Jenny vergara 4 months ago4 months ago

    Truly an unfortunate situation for all, but I see no need to get angry. Trying to approach a problem with a positive outlook. So that brings an idea that should be further discussed my our district’s leaders and advisers. Just as some of our heath facilities along with bright idea goers like myself, are utilizing a sterilization method called UV-C I ordered it online and use it in my home in an entry when my … Read More

    Truly an unfortunate situation for all, but I see no need to get angry. Trying to approach a problem with a positive outlook. So that brings an idea that should be further discussed my our district’s leaders and advisers. Just as some of our heath facilities along with bright idea goers like myself, are utilizing a sterilization method called UV-C I ordered it online and use it in my home in an entry when my family comes home. They will stand in the light for a significant time and then could enter the house safely. Now potentially this could be used in a school setting at entranceway to school buildings and classrooms. Along with other guidelines I believe life as we once knew of could soon be reality.

  11. Angela 4 months ago4 months ago

    Could districts that are open under waiver with less restrictions increase restrictions to meet this funding requirement? I’m in Orange County and we have been in hybrid since October but have been fighting for return to distance learning since numbers in our area have increased. Teachers are only being tested every two months and students not at all. It’s a joke!

  12. Morgan 4 months ago4 months ago

    As a special education employee in the school district, I really really hope that schools do not open. With the high rates of covid in California, it is so unsafe to open at this time. I completely feel uncomfortable and would prefer to stay safe and do distance learning while we are in purple status. Please keep the schools closed!!

    Replies

    • Jim Arvis 4 months ago4 months ago

      If you’re not comfortable you should stay home. But not impact 100,000 + children that need to be in school. You are no longer providing a service.

      • Sandra Butler 4 months ago4 months ago

        Are you saying those at risk should stay home or be fired? FIring someone due to a pre-existing condition or their age violates their civil rights.

  13. Teacher 4 months ago4 months ago

    Besides testing, we need this money to be used to keep us teachers, staff and students safe. Smaller classes, masks required for all, hot spots for those teaching and learning at home without internet. Teachers and students at home need to have the tools they need provided. We can’t leave these decisions to local leadership. Some things must be mandated to ensure safety and equity amongst all of California’s students and school employees.

  14. tovah 4 months ago4 months ago

    “Newsom’s approach would be to incentivize, not mandate, the return to school.” What’s the incentive? There’s some mention of increased funding for students in order to cover the basic safety measures required during this time. Is that supposed to be the incentive? It’s like saying “the incentive for teachers and students to go back is that they will have some safety measures in place.” That’s not incentive. Incentive in all other industries would be increased … Read More

    “Newsom’s approach would be to incentivize, not mandate, the return to school.” What’s the incentive? There’s some mention of increased funding for students in order to cover the basic safety measures required during this time. Is that supposed to be the incentive? It’s like saying “the incentive for teachers and students to go back is that they will have some safety measures in place.” That’s not incentive. Incentive in all other industries would be increased pay for employees on top of the obvious safety measures needed. Pay our educators appropriately. Show them the incentive for assuming this risk.

    Replies

    • Sheila Rosa 4 months ago4 months ago

      Teachers have been home since March. Many talking about 2022 plan to go back. We need to prioritize our kids first. If the teachers don’t want to go back hire some younger ones who will teach in person.

      • Chip Weber 4 months ago4 months ago

        The younger ones don’t want to be in there any more. I know, I’m one of them. There already is a dearth of young people entering the teaching field, and it’s only going to get worse. Yes, hazard pay is the way to go, I think!

    • Jamal 4 months ago4 months ago

      I’m with Tovah on this one.

  15. Rhee Ali Tee 4 months ago4 months ago

    While safety is of the utmost concern, reducing class sizes for all students—especially in TK-6–is the number one issue hindering the delivery of equitable and quality education. With the average number of students in private school classrooms being 10, and supposedly 22 in public school classrooms, this is factor that ought not be ignored. This would be a good time to plan for that beginning in the fall of 2021, instead of sitting around on … Read More

    While safety is of the utmost concern, reducing class sizes for all students—especially in TK-6–is the number one issue hindering the delivery of equitable and quality education. With the average number of students in private school classrooms being 10, and supposedly 22 in public school classrooms, this is factor that ought not be ignored. This would be a good time to plan for that beginning in the fall of 2021, instead of sitting around on computers at the district and state level ignoring what’s truly best for our children.

    Replies

    • L 4 months ago4 months ago

      That’s actually not accurate. My child attends a private school and it has 21 students in the class. The school has been able to be open for In person learning successfully with safety protocols in place.

    • Steven Juarez 4 months ago4 months ago

      My son’s public school 4th grade class had 42 kids. Now in private school with 19 kids since no public schools are open.

  16. L 4 months ago4 months ago

    Although I appreciate the push to reopen, this plan sounds like an absolute disaster and logistical nightmare.

    Replies

    • Steven Juarez 4 months ago4 months ago

      Governor Newsom better do something quick. He is facing a recall by Californians.