California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law on Friday aimed at returning students to classrooms in the nation’s most populous state. Most students have been out of school and learning online since last March because of the coronavirus and finding a way to return them to the classroom has been elusive.
Money, money, money
The law does not force school districts to resume in-person instruction. But it offers them a financial incentive to do so. A total of $6.6 billion is available.
Districts that offer in-person instruction by March 31 can tap into $2 billion in extra funding. For every day after April 1 a district does not offer in-person learning, the amount of money it can get goes down. Districts that wait until after May 15 to offer in-person learning won’t get any of this money.
The other $4.6 billion is to help students catch up on the material they have missed in the past year. All districts will get this money. They could use it to extend the school year or pay for summer school programs. Districts must use 85% of the money for expenses related to in-person instruction. The remaining 15% can be used for distance learning.
Who goes back?
California divides its counties into four color-coded tiers based on the spread of the virus and other factors. Purple is the most restrictive, followed by red, orange and yellow.
To get a piece of the $2 billion, districts in the purple tier must offer in-person instruction from transitional kindergarten through second grade, plus students in all grades who are homeless, disabled, in foster care, learning English, without access to technology at home or at risk for abuse and neglect.
The rules are different for districts in the red tier. Those districts must offer in-person instruction to all elementary school grades, plus at least one grade in middle and high school.
Most counties are still in the purple tier. But Newsom changed the rules this week to make it easier for more of them to move into the red tier sooner.
The law does not say how many days per week students should be at school in-person.
What about vaccines and testing?
Vaccinations for teachers are not required to return to in-person learning. But the plan writes into state law Newsom’s commitment to setting aside 10% of the state’s vaccine allocation, with a minimum of 75,000 doses per week for teachers.
Districts that return in the purple tier must provider regular testing of asymptomatic students and staff as well as testing for outbreaks and symptomatic people. But any district that comes up with a return-to-school plan by March 31 does not have to follow the asymptomatic testing requirement.