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In This Moment (4/24): Policy Updates in a Changing World

April 24, 2020

Lawmakers have been working around the clock to provide support to educators, families, and students as everyone struggles with the effects of the COVID-19 crisis. This week’s update focuses on the state of California’s ongoing efforts to address the technological and connectivity issues creating barriers for school districts that are working tirelessly to deliver teaching and learning both remotely and equitably. We also share the latest on Governor Newsom’s executive order detailing how districts can meet requirements in Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAPs) amid COVID-19, as well as new information on federal funding relief for states and teacher-directed professional development opportunities.

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COVID-19 School Accountability Information: Governor’s Executive Order and CDE’s FAQ

On Thursday, April 23, Governor Newsom released a much-anticipated executive order (EO) outlining how Local Education Agencies (LEAs) are expected to meet their LCAP obligations without state assessment data. The EO can be accessed here.

The EO extends the deadline for the 2019–20 LCAP to December 15 rather than suspending LCAPs altogether. Pushing back the date will hopefully provide time for LEAs to still engage in a thoughtful local process—which may need to be virtual—and for the governor and the legislature to make budget determinations that will have implications for the amount of funding available for schools.

The EO will delay implementation of the three-year LCAP template the State Board of Education adopted at its January 2020 meeting until the 2021–2022 through 2023–2024 school years. It separates LCAP adoption from the budget adoption and approval process for the 2020–2021 budget. The EO also establishes a reporting requirement to provide an overview of changes to program offerings LEAs are making in response to COVID-19 and the major impact the outbreak response is having on students. A copy of this report must accompany the LEA’s adopted budget and be posted on the LEA’s website.

It’s very likely that the legislature will need to approve a temporary template, metrics, and a stakeholder process to be used for the 2020–2021 LCAP. At this point, the legislature is scheduled to reconvene on May 4, 2020, but that—like everything these days—is subject to change.

The California Department of Education (CDE) posted COVID-19 Accountability FAQs on its website. The FAQ addresses the suspension of the Spring 2020 California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP). Of particular interest for those in the Linked Learning community is the potential impact on the College/Career Readiness Indicator, particularly since Grade 11 CAASPP results are used to determine placement levels. The CDE is exploring possible solutions, and ultimately the State Board of Education will need to approve any changes. We will continue to monitor this issue and provide updates as they become available.

Working Together to Close the Digital Divide for California Students

After asking business, government, and community leaders to step up to bridge the digital divide, Governor Newsom announced Monday a cross-sector partnership to support the state’s distance learning efforts. “School may be physically closed, but class is still in session,” said Governor Newsom. “But for class to be in session, it is imperative that California addresses the inequities in access to computers, technology tools and connectivity to ensure that online learning can in fact reach all of California’s children. It’s inspiring to see parents, teachers, businesses and philanthropy step up to meet this moment and provide tools to help bridge the digital divide and get more students connected.”

More than 70,000 devices (and growing) have been donated by companies, business leaders, and philanthropists who also committed to providing internet access for hundreds of thousands of households. First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, President of the State Board of Education and Advisor to the Governor Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond are leading the effort to collect and deploy services and resources to students and families most in need.

How districts can share their distance learning needs with the state

CDE has issued a California Survey for School Districts Distance Learning Resources to determine the specific needs of districts and is using the survey responses to match the donated resources to the exact needs of schools. It is critical for all districts in need to directly connect with CDE by completing the survey.

On April 16, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond announced the creation of the Closing the Digital Divide Task Force, co-chaired by Senator Connie Leyva, to focus on meeting the technology and connectivity needs of students. In a statement, Senator Leyva, who Chairs California’s Senate Education Committee said, “One vital step to ensuring equity is by closing the digital divide, which has become that much more evident and urgent as distance learning is now the new reality for millions of school children during the current COVID-19 crisis. I look forward to co-chairing this important task force as we all continue to work together to meet the needs of students in California.” The task force is expected to spotlight technology gaps, create more equitable teaching and learning environments for students, and raise money for devices and connectivity. Superintendent Thurmond also announced a partnership with Californians Dedicated to Education Foundation (CDE Foundation), the private non-profit partner of the California Department of Education since 2011, to create the California Bridging the Digital Divide Fund.

District grants to support connectivity

The California Public Utilities Commission is also partnering with CDE on the Broadband in Schools Initiative to distribute $30 million to support connectivity and will make $25 million from the California Teleconnect Fund available for internet services for student households and hotspots. School districts, with the priority going to rural, small, and medium-sized districts, will also be able to apply for 50 percent discounts on the cost of hotspot devices and on monthly recurring service charges until September 30, 2020.

It’s refreshing to see everyone working together to minimize the impact of the COVID-19 crisis for California students.

Emergency K–12 Education Funding Relief to States

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced on Thursday the availability of $13.2 billion in emergency K–12 education funding relief to states. California’s share of these funds is calculated to be $1.64 billion, with 90 percent, or about $1.5 billion, going directly to local education agencies (LEAs) based on their proportional Title I distributions for 2019. California can retain up to 10 percent of the total amount; however, there are efforts underway to urge the state to send as much of that funding as possible to LEAs.

States have until July 1 to apply by submitting a signed certification and agreement to the U.S. Department of Education (USED) and, if a state fails to allocate 90 percent of the funding to LEAs within one year, those funds must be returned.

It is expected that State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond and State Board President Linda Darling-Hammond will jointly submit the signed certification necessary to request the funds from USED in the coming days. Once the documentation has been received, ED anticipates distributing funds to the California Department of Education within three business days.

Opportunity to Comment on Professional Development Vouchers Proposal

USED issued a notice of proposed priorities this week that included a plan to provide stipends or vouchers to teachers for “teacher-directed” professional development opportunities. According to USED, the project will be overseen by the Education Innovation and Research program and seeks to provide teachers more control over their professional development, based on teachers’ interests and needs.

USED is seeking public comment, including whether partnerships with state education agencies and local education agencies would be necessary, and what challenges applicants may have in meeting the requirement that teacher-directed professional learning must replace a majority of the existing professional development for participating teachers.

How district staff can provide input on ED’s Professional Development Vouchers Proposal

Comments on the proposed priorities for the project are being accepted through the Federal Register until May 13.