What We’re Watching in California Education – February 2021

Welcome to What We’re Watching in California Education, a newsletter we hope will offer you insight into public education conversations happening at our state Capitol. Here are the toplines for this first edition:

Governor’s Budget Proposal: Overall, California’s revenues are higher than expected, allowing for investments to be made across our entire (P-16) education system; and yet, school districts have not received their full deferral payments from last school year, despite the influx of revenue. 

School Reopening Proposals: The Governor has proposed a $2 billion incentive for schools to reopen, but the plan is raising more questions than answers for districts like Fresno and Oakland Unified. 

Governor’s Budget Proposal

In January, the Governor revealed his proposal for the 2021-22 state budget. Somewhat counterintuitively, the state’s revenues are significantly higher than expected, due to the wealthiest Californians – who account for much of the state’s tax revenue – doing financially well during the pandemic. It’s important to note that this budget will almost certainly change as we learn more about exact tax revenues and as the Governor negotiates with the state Senate and Assembly throughout the Spring. For today, the Governor is proposing significant investments across P-16 education, including:

  • A $2 billion increase in LCFF funding to K-12 districts,  
  • $500 million to help expand the state’s transitional kindergarten program, 
  • Over $500 million for investments in teacher professional development and improving the state of the teacher pipeline, and
  • $350 million to expand financial relief to community college students experiencing financial hardships.

But, this budget proposal has a significant gap for schools. Last year, the state budget deferred $11 billion in funding to K-12 districts, essentially guaranteeing that the state would pay that money at a later date. The Governor’s new budget only repays about $7 billion of those deferrals, needlessly leaving districts in a fiscally tenuous position. GO and 21 other organizations are calling for the Assembly and Senate Budget Committees to fully repay these deferrals in the 2021-22 budget to help ensure financial stability for districts.

School Reopening Proposals

One element of the Governor’s proposed budget is a $2 billion fund to incentivize districts to submit and act upon plans to reopen schools, prioritizing getting the youngest students to in-person schooling first. To qualify for the funding, districts would need to submit a reopening plan and a ratified collective bargaining agreement that would include provisions for teachers returning to classrooms. Districts whose COVID case counts are too high to return to in-person instruction (over 28 cases per 100,000) would still be eligible for funding once cases drop below that level. The Governor’s hope is to act upon this budget area quickly with the legislature to provide the funds as early as February, although he is noting that the plan is still in negotiation.

To date, this plan has raised more questions than answers. A coalition of seven of the largest school districts in California – including Fresno and Oakland Unified – wrote a letter critical of the plan, seeking additional clarity for students, families, and educators. There are also questions about whether this additional funding would be enough to cover the cost of the ongoing asymptomatic testing that would be required in districts’ reopening plans. 

The legislature also has two proposals worth watching on the school reopening front: 

Other Statewide Updates from GO

  • Congratulations to Dr. Shirley Weber on her appointment to the office of California Secretary of State. As a driving force behind the Local Control Funding Formula, as well as last year’s AB 1835 which sought to do even more for low-income students, Dr. Weber has been a true champion for equity in public education. As a former Senate staffer who had the privilege to see her in action up close and work alongside her staff, I am eternally grateful for the example she set and the tenacity she brings to public office on behalf of all Californians, and most especially communities of color.
  • The State Board of Education met for their bimonthly meeting in January. Among the topics considered by the board was their approval of Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) plans. These plans are developed for California’s most struggling schools and are supposed to include “a school-level needs assessment, evidence-based interventions, and the identification of any resource inequities to be addressed through the implementation of the CSI plan.” GO and 11 other organizations encouraged the State Board to take more seriously their oversight role in the approval of these plans. These are schools that have not received the support needed from their local districts; if the state does not conduct a meaningful review of their improvement plans, we cannot expect these plans to contribute to improving student outcomes. 
  • Last year, GO worked to stop the California State University system from changing their application requirements to require a fourth year of math for admission, which many schools serving low-income students currently do not offer. We succeeded and the CSU Board of Trustees instead voted to pursue an independent analysis of this issue; however, now GO is joining the Education Trust – West, the Campaign for College Opportunity, and Just Equations to ask that the Board of Trustees ensure that their independent research group will study the equity questions at the heart of this issue.

In Community, 

Darcel Sanders, Interim CEO

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