Gov. Newsom Reaches Deal: School Districts To Receive Incentive Money To Reopen By Deadline

Los Banos Talk

California Governor Gavin Newsom seems to have struck a deal with the successful amending of Assembly Bill 86. AB-86 is titled the COVID-19 relief and school reopening, reporting, and public health requirements. The bill does several things including establishing a protocol for when a student, faculty, or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, and would implement other safety guidelines for California public schools to reopen. Under this legislation Districts must submit a COVID-19 safety plan to their local Department of Public Health, and then subsequently have an opportunity to be reviewed by the state Department of Public Health at which point deficiencies would be reviewed and remedied. This may seem like a serious challenge to school districts but the bill also provides substantial funding to help with these efforts and additional incentive money on top of that.

The bill moves $6,557,443,000 from the General Fund to the Superintendent of Public Instruction, of which $4,557,443,000 is for specific purposes such as offering supplemental instruction and support. Superintendents are required to hold public meetings and post on their respective districts website how they would be spending their funds. The remaining $2,000,000,000 will be allocated for districts and schools "if those local educational agencies, among other things, provide optional in-person instruction to certain pupil groups within prescribed timelines." According to the language in the bill schools will lose 1% of their available funding for each day they do not offer in-person learning after April 1, 2021 until May 15, 2021. If the schools do not offer in-person learning by May 15, 2021 than they will forfeit all of this funding. This bill does not technically require schools to reopen, but offers large incentives for doing so.

This bill focuses on certain groups of students primarily such as homeless students, low income, those with additional needs, students on reduced or free lunch,English learners, and younger children starting with TK/Kindergarten up to 6th grade. There is some flexibility for schools and districts for students who are not in one of the identified categories or in the younger age brackets.

The legislation leaves open some flexibility for school districts, in that it doesn't require that schools be open for in-person learning 5 days a week. Hybrid models of in-person mixed with distance learning counts according to this legislation. The way in which a school or district will be assessed as to being in compliance or not with funding requirements is based on the capabilities of the individual school, and would be reviewed continuously by the state. Districts in even the purple tier would be able to reopen according to this legislation, but they must submit a COVID-19 safety plan to their local Department of Public Health and the state Department of Public Health 5 days prior to conducting in-person learning. This legislation makes in-person learning optional for regions in the purple tier.

As of writing this, AB-86 is not law yet, but after successful revision in the senate, seems to be all but a done deal. Experts argue that this bill will likely become law very soon, perhaps in as little as a few days.

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