California governor signs bill to speed return to in-person learning

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a $6.6 billion package pitched as speeding up the return to in-person instruction in the state’s schools.

The bill provides $2 billion to schools to spend on personal protective equipment, ventilation upgrades and rapid COVID-19 testing to make it safer to return to schools amid the pandemic. It also provides $4.6 billion for districts to spend through the next fiscal year to pay for summer school, tutoring and mental health services.

“We have dropped down to a 2% positivity rate across the state and millions of people have been vaccinated,” Newsom said Friday during an online bill signing event. “This is the right time for this legislation.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation Friday that lawmakers called a first step to reopening schools.

California Governor’s Office

With the decision left to individual districts, California has a hodgepodge of policies in place now from largely in-person learning to fully remote.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon called Assembly Bill 86 the first step to getting more students back to schools.

“The bill the governor signed today is an important accomplishment, nevertheless it’s not a final accomplishment,” said Rendon, D-Lakewood. “It’s more like passing a key class on the road to graduation. This is a key moment and we can’t rest until every child is back in school.”

Initially it prioritizes the return of the youngest students and those most at risk of falling behind through online learning to in-person learning.

In order to receive the $2 billion in incentive funding, districts must open kindergarten through second grade classrooms by April 1. They also must provide in-person instruction for cohorts of students in all grades seen to be more disadvantaged by online learning. These include homeless and foster youth, English learners, students without access to the internet and students with disabilities.

Each day, the schools don’t open at least partially for in person learning, past the April 1 deadline they will forfeit 1% of the funding for which they are eligible.

The $4.6 billion grants will be allocated to schools based on the equity-based Local Control Funding Formula, with an additional $1,000 for each homeless student.

The Senate approved the measure on a 36-0 vote Thursday and it passed the Assembly 72-4.

Teachers unions, including United Teachers of Los Angeles, have insisted that school reopenings be tied to teachers receiving vaccinations. The legislation does not require all teachers be vaccinated, but it did set aside 10% of vaccines for teachers and other school employees like janitors and cafeteria workers.

“We have two competing truths: Learning with teachers and friends in a classroom is better for most kids, yet in the midst of a pandemic, reopening schools increases the risk of exposure to COVID-19. So, details matter,” said Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley.

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