Under a proposal announced Monday, the state will offer $2 billion to districts willing to quickly get grades K-2 back on campus.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) --- In a rush to bring children back to the classroom after a year of closed campuses, California Governor Gavin Newsom and lawmakers said Monday the state will offer $2 billion to school districts willing to reopen next month.
In an agreement between Newsom and the state’s legislative leaders, grants will be offered to districts with low coronavirus case rates that are able to reopen for in-person learning beginning April 1. The plan, which places a heavy focus on grades K-2 and special education, does not require teachers to be vaccinated or force districts to reopen by the deadline.
If approved by the Legislature, the plan would commit a total of $6.5 billion to help schools make up for lost time and resources during the pandemic closures that have been in place for most since last March.
“We want schools to safely reopen period. Full stop,” Newsom said during a press conference Monday. “We believe they can safely reopen and we believe the science and data bear that out.”
The rush will be on as Monday’s plan takes a carrot and stick and approach to the reopenings.
Starting April 1, districts will lose 1% of their available share of the $2 billion grant for each school day they remain closed. Districts unable to provide in-person learning by May 15 will miss out on the grant entirely.
The K-2 requirement applies to all districts, including those in counties continuing to see high infection rates. As conditions improve in their respective counties, districts will be required to expand classes to higher grades in order to remain eligible for the grant funding.
Currently, 47 of the state’s 58 counties were experiencing what state officials consider “widespread” transmission rates and remain in the most restrictive purple tier of Newsom’s reopening framework. Newsom said seven more counties could be bumped out of the purple tier on Tuesday.
To address the safety concerns of education workers and parents, the plan calls for regular Covid-19 testing of students and teachers in schools assigned to the purple tier. Testing will not be a requirement for schools in improved tiers or those that have already reopened, nor does the proposal outline a minimum requirement for the length of school days.
Many Democratic lawmakers are already on board with the amended reopening plan, including state state Senator Dave Cortese who said the state could no longer afford to keep children out of schools.
“I am hopeful that this plan will address the learning loss that students have experienced without in-person instruction, while ensuring that our educators, students, and families are as protected as possible,” Cortese said in a statement. “Responding to learning loss impacts as well as considerations for physical and mental health must be factored into our state’s next steps moving forward to continue to support the overall health and well-being of all children.”
Along with Cortese, other Democrats publicly backing the deal include Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, state Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove.
Atkins told reporters at a Sacramento-area elementary school the deal reflects weeks and months of prickly negotiations on figuring out how to get California’s over 10,000 schools reopened. She thanked the governor, fellow lawmakers and teacher unions for working daily and bargaining in good faith.
“We’ve all been working diligently to get to this moment,” said Atkins, D-San Diego. “You can’t reduce any of this to a couple of sound bites, there’s absolutely no way.”