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In This Moment (03/05): Governor Signs School Reopening Plan

March 5, 2021

This week we spotlight the school reopening agreement that Governor Newsom signed this morning. The agreement, negotiated with the State Legislature, provides $2 billion for school reopening and $4.6 billion for expanded learning time and academic interventions, including integrated student supports.

In other news, we address the State Board of Education’s move to pursue a waiver of Federal accountability requirements for the 2020-21 school year.

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Governor Signs School Reopening Plan

On March 5th, Governor Newsom signed AB 86, the long-awaited school reopening agreement negotiated with the State Legislature providing a total of $6.6 billion in funding to incentivize local education agencies (LEAs) to provide more in-person instruction by April 1, 2021.

As with prior proposals, the deal provides two pots of funding with separate rules for each: $2 billion to incentivize schools to provide more in-person instruction and $4.6 billion for more learning time and academic interventions. The California Department of Education (CDE) will notify LEAs of their total apportionment within 15 days of enactment of the bill, or by March 20, 2021.

$2 Billion for School Reopening

All LEAs are eligible to receive these funds, but some LEAs may not meet the criteria for expending them. The funds will be allocated in proportion to the LEA’s total Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) entitlement target and LEAs can expect half of the funding in May and the other half in August. In order to be eligible to expend the funds, LEAs must provide in-person instruction, as defined in the bill, by April 1st with the ability to gain partial funding on a sliding scale if open by May 15th.

Schools must provide continuous in-person instruction through the end of the scheduled 2020-21 school year in order to maintain compliance. If an LEA fails to provide continuous in-person instruction, it will forfeit all funds apportioned under this grant. However, if an LEA is told to close by a local or state agency, there is no penalty.

$4.6 Billion for Expanded Learning Time and Academic Interventions

All LEAs will receive these funds in proportion to their total LCFF entitlement target and will also receive $1,000 per homeless pupil enrolled as of the 2020-21. At least 85% of the funding must be spent to support in-person instruction and up to 15% may be used to support distant learning. LEAs that did not receive any of the $2 billion for reopening may use 10% of these funds for reopening costs.

While the funding is quite flexible, it does need to be spent to expand learning time and to support students we know have been greatly impacted by COVID-19 by:

  • Extending instructional learning time in addition to what is required for the 2020–21 school year and the 2021–22 and 2022–23 school years by increasing the number of instructional days or minutes provided during the school year. Options for extended instructional time include providing summer school, providing intersessional instructional programs, or taking any other action that increases the amount of instructional time or services provided to pupils based on their learning needs.
  • Accelerating progress to close learning gaps through implementing, expanding, or enhancing learning supports, including:
    • tutoring or other one-on-one or small group learning supports provided by certificated or classified staff,
    • learning recovery programs and materials designed to accelerate pupil academic proficiency or English language proficiency, or both, and
    • educator training, for both certificated and classified staff, in accelerated learning strategies and effectively addressing learning gaps, including training in facilitating quality and engaging learning opportunities for all pupils.

Spotlight on Integrated Supports

Of particular importance to the Linked Learning field is funding for integrated student supports to address barriers to learning, such as the provision of health, counseling, or mental health services, access to school meal programs, before and after school programs, or programs to address pupil trauma and social-emotional learning, or referrals for support for family or pupil needs. AB 86 also specifically names appropriate uses of the funding for:

  • Community learning hubs that provide pupils with access to technology, high-speed internet, and other academic supports.
  • Training for school staff on strategies, including trauma-informed practices, to engage pupils and families in addressing pupils’ social-emotional health needs and academic needs.

LEAs must complete an expenditure plan for these funds prior to June 1, 2021, but may expend the funds prior to this time. The funds must be expended by August 31, 2022.

State Board of Education Takes Preliminary Steps on Student Assessments

The State Board of Education (SBE) met last week to discuss state assessment administration for the 2020-21 school year soon after the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) released guidance offering states the option to pursue a waiver of the accountability requirements tied to assessments. However, USDOE stopped short of offering full waivers of all assessment requirements. Instead, the federal government noted the importance of understanding the impact of the pandemic on student learning and urged states to provide LEAs with flexibility in administering statewide assessments. USDOE also offered to work with states on possible additional flexibilities tied to their specific circumstances.

In response to this guidance, the SBE approved moving forward with pursuing a waiver of Federal accountability requirements for the 2020-21 school year, extended the testing window for both the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) and the English Language Proficiency Assessments for California (ELPAC) to July 30, 2021. The SBE also gave authority to the SBE Executive Director, in collaboration with CDE staff, to develop a waiver proposal that focuses on a plan for assessments that provides data to parents, educators, and the general public that monitors the progress of students in ELA/mathematics. This waiver is expected to be taken up by the SBE at the March 2021 meeting.

It should be noted that the actions taken by the SBE relate to the federal assessment and accountability requirements only. Since California has its own assessment and accountability requirements, the state will also either need to take legislative action, or the Governor will need to sign an executive order, to waive the state’s corresponding requirements.