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What a difference a year makes.
Confident of a continued economic recovery from Covid recession, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday presented a record $89.2 billion for K-12 schools and community colleges next year that will provide billions in additional revenue and new spending — plus 3% more for the University of California and the California State University.
The highlight is $4.6 billion for summer school and extra learning time to confront the academic setbacks most students, particularly low-income students and those with limited internet access, have faced during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“My goal here is to address the issue of learning loss on those disproportionally impacted: English learners, foster kids, homeless kids, kids with special needs, young kids. What we hope to do with this money is to address these inequities — the realities that distance learning has not met everybody’s needs equally,” Newsom said during a press conference.
The money for extended learning will be available in addition to paying back to schools two-thirds of the $12.5 billion in late payments, called deferrals, that the Legislature adopted to forestall cuts to K-12 and community colleges in the 2020-21 budget.
Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, who chairs the Assembly Education Committee, called the funding for learning loss “crucial for getting students back on track.”
“Distance learning has been ineffective for students,” he said. “These funds will help prevent further widening of the academic achievement gap and support our students in credit and grade recovery. Reopening schools safely, which must include adequate testing and vaccination of teachers and other school staff, must also be a priority.”
John Affeldt, managing attorney of the nonprofit law firm Public Advocates, praised the $4.6 billion but said how the money will be spent will be critical. “It will be important that this investment avoids traditional drill and kill summer school remediation and instead provides students with innovative, rich and engaging learning opportunities this summer and into next year. As well, these funds should be used to address the critical social-emotional and mental health needs of students.”
Funding beyond the minimum
The 2021-22 budget also would include an additional $300 million for special education and a cost of living adjustment for K-12. Since he cut the COLA in last year’s budget, the new 3.84% COLA combines both years.
Partially meeting a commitment he made last year to increase K-12’s portion of the General Fund, Newsom said he would provide $2.3 billion in 2021-22 beyond the new minimum level of $85.8 billion guaranteed through the Proposition 98 formula, bringing total Prop. 98 funding to $88.1 billion. Newsom had proposed an additional $12.4 billion beyond the Proposition 98 minimum spread out over multiple years, but in his budget, he said there would the extra funding would end after 2021-22. The multi-year commitment assumed a big budget cut last year and a prolonged recession. His budget summary says that’s no longer the case.
But he would allocate nearly another $900 million next year in one-time General Fund revenue. Of that, $820 million would lower districts’ share of pension payments to CalSTRS and CalPERS by about 2 percentage points. In the previous two budgets, the state redirected about $5.5 billion toward defraying districts’ short- and long-term pension obligation.
An additional $100 million would continue funding for the Golden State Teacher Grant Program, to subsidize the cost of teacher credentials for aspiring teachers who agree to teach in low-income areas where there is a shortage of fully qualified teachers.
Last year, before the pandemic forced Newsom to withdraw the money in the final budget, Newsom had proposed hundreds of millions in funding for teacher development and training. In 2021-22, he would target about $500 million for high-needs districts through Prop. 98 for these purposes, including:
- $250 million in an educator effectiveness block grants for accelerated learning, restorative justice and implicit bias training;
- $50 million for training in social and emotional learning;
- $8.3 million for an early math initiative;
- $5 million to train teachers planning to offer or already teaching ethnic studies.
To further address a teacher shortage in low-income schools, an additional $100 million would expand the state’s teacher residency program, enabling teachers in training to spend a year working with mentor teachers in the classroom, and $25 million to expand a program that enables districts’ classified workers to earn a teaching credential.
$2 billion to reopen schools now
Newsom called on the Legislature to act in the next few weeks on $2 billion in funding incentives to K-12 districts to open up school buildings for transitional kindergarten to grade 6, starting Feb. 15. They would receive a minimum of $450 per child if they agreed to requirements for Covid testing and negotiated a Covid safety plan with their employee unions.
This week, superintendents from seven urban school districts, including the state’s four biggest, criticized the plan. They called on the state to pay the full costs of Covid testing in addition to the $2 billion in incentives. Newsom said that he plans to meet Monday with the superintendents but that the level of funding in the new budget should address many of their concerns.
“That’s demonstrable in terms of the budget we’ve just put out,” he said. “The historic funding plus the additional supports coming from the federal government that will only further the cause of addressing equity.”
K-12 schools are estimated to receive $6.7 billion this year through the Covid aid Congress passed last month. The state will also receive at least several billion dollars to cover testing and vaccination expenses, but Newsom’s budget does not account for that money, and there has been no decision on how the money will be allocated, staff members of the Department of Finance said.
Toby Boyd, president of the California Teachers Association, said teachers appreciate the budget’s attention to “struggling students,” adding, “We eagerly await the day we can safely return to our classrooms where we know our students learn best and thrive.”
But, he said, “We share many of the concerns that some superintendents and others have articulated about the structure and implementation of the governor’s proposed reopening plan, but look forward to continuing to work with the administration and the Legislature on ensuring a safe reopening of all public schools.”
Paying down deferrals
With a plunge in revenue between March and June last year with the first surge in Covid-19, Newsom and the Legislature projected a $14 billion drop in Prop. 98 spending for community colleges and K-12. Rather than cut that much, they agreed to $12.5 billion in late payments. Since the budget’s approval, revenues from taxes on capital gains and personal income taxes weighted toward the wealthy are expected to wipe out the projected deficit.
In 2020-21 Newsom proposes to pay off all but $3.7 billion of the deferrals, which will provide districts with more to spend on recovering from the pandemic. Some education leaders had urged full repayment of the debt. Many districts have had to take out short-term loans because of late payments.
“California avoided a projected revenue shortfall this year largely because our state’s most fortunate residents prospered even as so many communities were ravaged by the pandemic and recession,” wrote Elisha Smith Arrillaga, executive director of the Education Trust–West, a nonprofit advocacy organization. “That dichotomy only underscores the importance that this year’s budget is an Equity First budget, directing resources to those who have been hit hardest.”
“We appreciate the governor’s proposal to pay down two-thirds of the school deferrals enacted in last year’s budget, but we are still unsure how long the pandemic and school closures will continue,” Los Angeles County Superintendent Debra Duardo said. “As long as Los Angeles County stays in the Purple Tier, safety remains a key concern.”
But the initial reaction was positive from the president of the California School Boards Association. President Suzanne Kitchens said proposals to provide the cost-of-living increase, eliminate two-thirds of the deferrals to schools and reduce school district contributions to employee pension funds “will provide schools with some flexibility to meet the wide variety of student needs and extraordinary expenses during this time of crisis.”
Additional money for special and early education
Newsom’s budget also includes more in new funding for special education. The bulk of the money — $300 million — would be for programs aimed at intervention services for infants, toddlers and preschoolers. An additional $5 million would help train district administrators on using Medi-Cal funds to serve students with disabilities, and an additional $500,000 would beef up the oversight of students with disabilities placed in private schools.
Newsom, who has dyslexia, has long championed special education. Over the past two years, his administration has bolstered special education funding by $1.5 billion, including extra money for direct services as well as recruiting and training teachers.
“This is a historic investment in special ed,” he said. “I speak from experience as to how important this is. I am all in.”
Recognizing the pandemic’s toll on student mental health, the budget also includes more than $700 million in funding for programs that help students cope with anxiety, depression, stress and other disorders.
Most of the money goes toward a plan that would link Medi-Cal with county behavioral health departments, expanding the number of students eligible for mental health counseling. California has long had a shortfall of counselors and other mental health professionals at schools. On average, California had one counselor for every 324 students in 2018-19, well above the 1:250 ratio recommended by the American School Counselor Association.
In line with the recent Master Plan for Early Learning and Care, Newsom hopes to expand access to transitional kindergarten programs for all 4-year-olds by giving $250 million to school districts as an incentive to expand these programs as well as $50 million for teacher preparation and $250 million to build out the necessary facilities. He also plans to increase subsidized child care by putting $44 million toward providing 4,500 more child care vouchers for low-income families.
“It’s not a surprise given COVID,” said Deborah Stipek, an early education expert at Stanford who helped create the Master Plan. “The additional funding for TK is, I hope, a foot in the door to eventually make TK available and funded for all 4-year-olds. We can hope to see more of a focus on early learning in the May revise.”
Saying the proposed budget did not go far enough to prioritize, especially kids of color, kids in poverty and youth in foster care, Ted Lempert, president of the nonprofit Children Now cited a failure to “include significant new state investments for our fragile child care system, which is essential to getting our economy back on track.”
Higher education funding
Newsom’s budget increases funding for the state’s colleges and universities. While the support would remain below their pre-pandemic levels, higher education leaders still praised the budget.
The budget proposes a total of $786 million for the 10-campus University of California system and the 23-campus California State University system to address equity gaps, expand dual admission, and reduce the time to degree completion. The budget also assumes that in-state resident tuition and fees remain flat for 2021-22.
For CSU, the budget includes $144.5 million — a 3% increase— in recurring money to support basic needs, the Graduation Initiative 2025, a learning management system that integrates with the community colleges, and mental health initiatives. Newsom also proposes $225 million in one-time money for emergency financial aid grants to support students, “culturally competent” professional development and deferred maintenance.
The UC system will also receive a 3% increase in its base resources from the state, totaling $136 million, with the expectation that UC will reduce equity gaps, create a new dual admissions pathway and “align student objectives with workforce needs,” among other things.
The state’s community colleges would receive $250 million for emergency financial aid assistance for students in need, an additional $100 million to support students facing housing and food insecurity and $23 million to support enrollment growth.
The budget also sets aside $250 million in one-time funding to support workforce development between colleges, universities and employers.
EdSource reporters Carolyn Jones, Karen D’Souza, Ashley Smith and Michael Burke contributed to this report.
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