Governor Newsom’s Proposed Budget Could Greatly Assist Schools in Supporting the Most Vulnerable Student Populations for in-Person Learning
On December 30, 2020, Governor Newsom released the “Safe Schools for All Plan” (“Plan”), a proposed framework for safely reopening the State’s schools for in-person instruction beginning in February 2021. On January 8, 2021, the Governor released his proposed 2021-22 State budget which provides further details of the specific funding for the Safe Schools for All Plan.
The Plan, which is subject to legislative approval, sets out guidelines for when schools can open for in-person instruction based on local infection rates and incentivizes schools to do so by providing a sliding scale of per-pupil funding tied to specific reopening dates. The Plan emphasizes bringing back the youngest students first (transitional kindergarten through second grade), as well as students disproportionately affected by the pandemic, including students with disabilities and those without access to technology or internet services. The Plan includes requirements for COVID-19 testing for students and staff, and also requires schools to draft a school-specific safety plan, in compliance with the California Department of Public Health (“CDPH”). For a detailed discussion of the general requirements of the Plan, please review AALRR’s January 13, 2021, Alert, which can be found here: https://www.aalrr.com/newsroom-alerts-3818.
According to the most recent guidance from CDPH, issued January 14, 2021, schools may reopen when the seven-day average infection rate in their county is below 25 per 100,000 residents. While this significantly relaxes the current tier-based requirement that schools remain closed until the applicable county enters the red tier (i.e., infection rate of 7 or fewer per 100,000 residents for at least 14 days), it remains a lofty goal considering current daily infection rates in many of the State’s largest counties (e.g., as of January 12, 2021, Los Angeles County had a daily infection rate of 127 per 100,000 residents; Fresno County had a rate of 81 per 100,000; and San Joaquin County had 73 per 100,000). (https://covid19.ca.gov/safer-economy/.) A comprehensive alert discussing the new CDPH reopening guidance is forthcoming.
Schools meeting the above requirements which offer in-person instruction to grades TK through 2 — as well as to all students with disabilities, youth in foster care, homeless youth, and students without access to technology — by February 16, 2021, and offer in-person instruction to grades 3 through 6 by March 15, 2021, will be eligible to receive a base grant of $450 per student. Schools in counties with widespread infection rates can still receive the full grant amount if they reopen as soon as their rate of community spread sufficiently declines. The Plan, and Governor Newsom’s proposed budget, provide additional funding for schools prioritizing in-person instruction for high-risk groups, including low-income students, youth in foster care, and English language learners. Schools with high enrollments of these groups upon reopening may be eligible for a per-pupil grant of $700 or more.
Notably, the grant money may be used for any purpose that supports in-person instruction. Schools can use the funds to employ additional aides, staff, and teachers to reduce the student/staff ratios in the cohorts brought back for in-person learning. This can be particularly useful for students that require additional behavioral support and supervision to maintain proper social distancing with their peers. To further reduce the risk of virus transmission, funds can be used to purchase personal protective equipment for staff, upgrades to school ventilation systems, or clear screens or private boards for individual student desks to enforce separation between staff and students.
The additional funds can also be used to support the social-emotional well-being of students. As the Plan itself recognizes, and as many districts have witnessed, the changes in daily routine, lack of predictability, and extended periods of isolation brought on by the pandemic have taken a toll on the mental health of many students. To address the growing levels of anxiety and depression felt by students during the pandemic, schools can use the funds to address mental health on a schoolwide level by, for example, employing additional staff to provide regular counseling for all students; implementing after-school, outdoor wellness programs (i.e., meditation or yoga classes); providing supervised, safe spaces for students to socialize outside of the classroom; or providing additional training to teachers and staff on identifying red flags for students suffering from increased anxiety or depression.
Governor Newsom’s proposed budget recognizes the academic challenges and deficiencies the pandemic and distance learning have posed for certain groups, including students with disabilities. To this end, the budget proposes to set aside a one-time, $4.6 billion addition to the Proposition 98 General Fund to address learning loss due to the pandemic. The funds are meant to allow schools to design and implement targeted interventions to remediate any potential academic losses experienced by students in marginalized groups. While the specific interventions will be left up to each school to design and implement, the budget references use of these funds for well-known successful intervention programs, such as extended school year or summer school, and community learning hubs. Additionally, the budget sets aside an additional $305 million specifically for special education, including funds directed at increasing access to early intervention and necessary medical intervention services.
Governor Newsom’s proposed budget, if approved by California’s legislature, could greatly assist schools in supporting the safe and swift return of the most vulnerable student populations to schools for in-person learning.
If you have any questions regarding this Alert, you can contact the authors or your regular attorney at Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo.
 The per-pupil grant will also apply to students who choose to remain in remote learning; it does not require a student actually attend school in-person to be eligible for the grant, only that the school offer in-person instruction to all students within the specified grade levels.
This AALRR publication is intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon in reaching a conclusion in a particular area of law. Applicability of the legal principles discussed may differ substantially in individual situations. Receipt of this or any other AALRR publication does not create an attorney-client relationship. The Firm is not responsible for inadvertent errors that may occur in the publishing process.
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