Newsom unveils new plan to incentivize schools to return to in-person classes

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday unveiled a $2 billion package of financial incentives to encourage California school districts to bring young students back into the classroom for in-person instruction as early as mid-February.
“The fundamental fact is that learning is non-negotiable but obviously so is safety,” Newsom said during a news briefing on Wednesday.
The proposed program first prioritizes returning students from transitional kindergarten to 2nd grade and students with higher needs, such as English learners, homeless, foster and low-income students, into the classroom as early as mid-February. The remainder of elementary school students would follow shortly thereafter, with a goal to be “back on track across the spectrum by spring 2021.”
Under the governor’s plan, districts that choose to transition to in-person instruction would receive about $450 per student, with the potential for additional funding up to $700 per student for low-income students, English learners and foster youth, he said Wednesday.
In order to be eligible for the program, a school district must submit a safety plan to local and state agencies with a range of required mitigation measures, including a mandate that students and school staff wear masks at all times while on campus.
Only schools in counties with a seven-day average of fewer than 28 new coronavirus cases reported a day per 100,000 residents would be eligible to open — a threshold that would keep schools in areas of the state with high transmission rates, such as Los Angeles County, shuttered for the foreseeable future. Even if a district decides to reopen, parents can opt to continue distance learning if they are not comfortable with sending their students back into a classroom, Newsom said.
Tony Thurmond, state superintendent of public education, said he recognizes that not every school will reopen but that the new funding will make it much easier for those that choose to.
“Our educators are leaning in and trying to provide everything they can, but we literally moved into distance learning overnight, and so there are unavoidable impacts that unquestionably have occurred,” he said. “… We know that many families, foster families and homeless families, English learners, free and reduced lunch families, have been impacted in different ways, and so we’ll be continuing our work to strengthen family engagement strategies to ensure our kids are connected to their schools.”
The governor’s announcement comes after the majority of schools across the state have been shuttered for nearly a year due to concerns over the potential spread of the coronavirus. Prior to the December surge, elementary school districts were permitted to apply for waivers to reopen schools for in-person classes but only a small portion of schools across the state had done so.
Newsom has faced considerable pressure in recent months from parents and some legislatures to establish a uniform plan to transition back to in-person instruction. Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, earlier this month introduced a bill that would require schools allowed to open under state and county health orders — those in the state’s Red, Orange, or Yellow reopening tiers — to implement a plan to do so within two weeks. The governor’s new plan would go further to permit some counties in the Purple tier to reopen as well.
This story will be updated. 

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