By Eli Walsh
Bay City News Foundation
Governor Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers celebrated the signing of a $ 6.6 billion legislative package Friday to help reopen grades K-6 nationwide by the end of the month and grades 7-12 in early April.
The package includes $ 2 billion in grants to support safety measures for students and educators returning to face-to-face classes, including personal protective equipment, improvements to classroom ventilation, and regular coronavirus testing.
The remaining $ 4.6 billion will fund voluntary learning expansions, including extending the school year into summer, tutoring to make up for the learning loss lost during the pandemic and student psychiatric care.
“We all know how persistent and challenging this process has been over the past 60 days,” Newsom said during a virtual signing ceremony for the legislative package.
The reopening plan comes after months of negotiation between Newsom administration officials, state lawmakers and teachers’ unions over details like required vaccinations and a reopening schedule that all sides agree is safe.
While the package doesn’t require educators to be vaccinated before in-person lessons resume, state officials have argued that they have taken steps to ensure that vaccination doses are available to educators they want.
On Monday, the state began reserving 10 percent of weekly vaccine shipments sent to local health departments and health facilities in several counties for K-12 educators and childcare workers.
D-San Francisco MP Phil Ting formulated the legislative package as the first of several steps to reopen schools and referred to his children’s experiences with distance learning to underscore the need to reopen schools.
“I have two kids in San Francisco public schools and they’ve been zooming since last March,” he said. “I’ve seen the impact on them firsthand, whether it is their decline in their willingness to learn, their withdrawal, or their inability to connect with friends. We saw the devastating effects. “
Ting added that while the San Francisco Unified School District is not yet due to approve a reopening plan, he remains excited to offer resources from the legislative package to schools in need.
“We’re going to go home to all of our districts and ask all of our (school) districts to open up, use this money and do everything possible,” he said.
The deal does not require all classes across the state to return to personal classes, but instead use state funds as an incentive.
The deal requires in-person public school classes for K-2 students and all “needy” grades K-12 students – including English learners, care system students, and unhodged students – to resume by the end of the month.
Non-compliant schools would lose 1 percent of their funding per day if they weren’t open by then.
Once a county is in the red zone of the state’s pandemic reopening system, schools would risk the same penalty for failing to offer face-to-face tuition to all elementary and high school students in at least one middle or high school level.
State officials noted Friday that the state’s legislative package is also not dependent on federal funding, or that the COVID-19 aid bill is currently under congressional scrutiny so the state doesn’t have to wait for political machinations in Washington, DC to reopen schools open.
“I am very confident that the resources provided in this (legislation), combined with those expected by the federal government, will provide us with sufficient resources to ensure that our classrooms can be safely opened,” said Senator Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley.
Schools in at least 35 of the state’s 58 counties have resumed in-person tuition in some form, according to the state.
The website for the reopening of the state school can be found at https://schools.covid19.ca.gov.
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