Legislation pays school districts billions to reopen
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law Friday morning to bring California kids back into the classroom.
Assembly Bill 86 gives school districts $2 billion to open schools for students in transitional kindergarten through second grade by April 1, after a year of distance learning.
There will also be $4.6 billion given to districts to fund efforts mitigating learning loss, such as summer school, tutoring, one-on-one support, mental health services, access to school meal programs, programs to address pupil trauma and extended learning time.
“We look forward to the much-needed recognition of the importance of education,” Hilda Maldonado, superintendent of Santa Barbara Unified School District, said in a statement to the News-Press. “This investment will help us to support our students and ensure that the learning recovery can begin.”
The legislation is part of an effort to incentivize more schools to open back up, because if they don’t, they won’t get their share of the $2 billion in reopening funds. Specifically, districts will lose 1% of eligible funds every day they remain closed after March 31. Schools that are already open or have plans to reopen by the end of March are allowed to move forward with their reopening and still qualify for funds.
Vaccinations for teachers are not required for reopening, according to the bill. However, the bill codifies Gov. Newsom’s commitment to setting aside 10% of vaccine supply for teachers.
In addition, the bill removed the previously proposed union approval required to reopen, leaving the decision solely up to each district independently.
When Santa Barbara County reaches the red tier, all elementary school grades must reopen for in-person learning, and the districts must commit to opening at least one middle or high school grade to in-person instruction to get their fair share of funds.
Parents also retain the right to have their children continue to learn virtually if they choose, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Schools reopening in counties in the purple tier will be required to test students and staff who do not have symptoms on campuses without any reported cases, but if districts adopt a plan to return to the classroom by March 31 or already offer in-person elementary instruction, they don’t have to adhere to that requirement. Schools opening in the red, orange and yellow tiers are not required to do the additional testing.
As of Thursday, elementary schools in the following districts were open for hybrid in-person instruction: Ballard, Blochman Union, Carpinteria Unified, Cold Spring, College, Hope, Los Olivos, Montecito Union, Santa Barbara Unified, Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District and Solvang School District. Buellton, Goleta Union, Lompoc Unified and Orcutt Unified are set to reopen Monday, and Vista Del Mar Union will begin March 15.
All other schools are continuing distance learning for the time being.
“Lompoc looks forward to using the AB 86 funds to provide a better learning environment for our students,” Trevor McDonald, superintendent of Lompoc Unified School District, said in a statement to the News-Press. “With the news of the bill’s passage and students coming back on Monday, the excitement in the air district wide is palpable!”