Gov. Gavin Newsom Friday signed a $6.6 billion legislative package that offers incentives for schools to resume in-person instruction for students up to second grade by April 1 and provides funds to help recoup learning lost during the COVID-19 pandemic, possibly by extending the school year.
Newsom signed the school-reopening legislation in a Zoom ceremony attended by a host of legislative and education leaders. He pointed to achievements being made in the fight against the virus, including the now 2.1% testing-positivity rate in the state, and the newly surpassed milestone of 10 million vaccinations administered, “more than all but five nations in the world.”
“To be where we are today, a week or so away, or less than a week away, with many more counties moving into less restrictive tiers, this is the right time to sign this bill,” Newsom said. “It’s the right time to safely reopen for in-person instruction our schools, focusing on those cohorts that are most impacted by this pandemic.”
The legislation creates a $2 billion incentive pool, with money doled out to schools that reopen campuses for students in pre-kindergarten through second grade, as well as high-need students of all ages. The money will go toward safety improvements, such as ventilation systems and protective equipment.
The proposal does not order schools to reopen, but those that fail to do so by April 1 will lose 1% of their share of the funds for every day they miss the deadline.
The money will be available to schools in counties that have an average daily new COVID case rate of less than 25 per 100,000 residents, which covers the vast majority of the state, including all of Los Angeles County.
Under state guidelines, schools in counties that meet the 25 cases per 100,000 residents threshold are authorized — but not required — to resume in-person classes for students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade.
Under the new legislation, schools in counties that advance out of the most restrictive “purple” tier of the state’s four-level “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” and into the less-restrictive “red” tier would be required to open all elementary grades and at least one middle or high school grade to qualify for the incentive funds. Los Angeles Counties could move into the “red” tier by late March by meeting the required case rate of no more than seven new daily COVID cases per 100,000 residents.
The legislative package signed by Newsom includes another $4.6 billion in general funding for all schools to help districts make up for learning time lost during the pandemic, possibly by extending the school year into the summer.
More than two dozen school districts and hundreds of private schools in the county have already had “COVID Safety Plans” approved by the county Department of Public Health, clearing them to resume in-person instruction for students up to sixth grade. Newsom has insisted that vaccinations should not be a pre-requisite for schools to reopen. But he has ordered that 10% of all doses received by the state, a minimum of 75,000 doses per week, be set aside for teachers and school staff.