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In This Moment (5/22): Lawmakers Parse the May Revise

May 22, 2020

This week brought May Revise analysis and questions from community and advocacy groups, Local Educational Agencies (LEAs), lawmakers, and many others. Here at the Linked Learning Alliance (LLA), we’ve been diving into the details as well. Based on conversations with our partners in Sacramento and feedback from the Linked Learning community, we’re continuing to pay particularly close attention to the Career Technical Education Incentive Grant (CTEIG), K-12 Strong Workforce Program, and California Partnership Academies (CPA) funding. These programs serve as incredibly important resources for Linked Learning pathways throughout California. As you’ll see below, lawmakers have also raised concerns about the proposed cuts to these categorical programs.

Here we also share updates about the California Department of Education’s webinar on safely reopening schools, and the University of California’s vote to drop the SAT/ACT for student admissions.

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Proposed Cuts to Education Examined by Lawmakers

The Legislature was back at it this week dissecting Governor Newsom’s recently released May Revision. The budget committee members took turns questioning the Department of Finance (DOF), the Legislative Analyst Office (LAO), and the California Department of Education (CDE) on the Governor’s proposed cuts to K-12 education.

Lawmaker Concerns

Lawmakers were visibly concerned about the proposed cuts’ impact on public education as school districts begin the arduous task of planning to reopen next school year before the current school year has even ended. Of particular interest was DOF’s rationale behind the proposed cuts, proposed uses and allocation of the federal funding, and the reliance on additional federal relief that could “trigger off,” or eliminate, some of the proposed cuts. One of the hotly debated proposals included allocating $2.855 billion in federal relief funding directly to the LEAs that received concentration grant funding in 2019-2020. This, in the mind of some lawmakers, is not an equitable distribution method and would create winners and losers rather than spreading the funding more equally among LEAs.

Other issues of concern included the lack of rationale behind the 50% cuts to almost all remaining categorical programs (including K-12 Strong Workforce and CTE Incentive Grant (CTEIG), with the exception of special education, and a 10% cut to the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). The Governor pledged in January to increase funding for special education and examine the outdated funding system. He doubled down on his pledge by keeping his January special education proposal almost intact in the May Revision, shifting the funding to federal IDEA dollars and focusing on special education service challenges under distance learning.

The CDE pushed back on the proposed cuts, arguing that LEAs are being asked to do more with less and that student and staff safety, mitigating learning loss, especially for the most vulnerable students, and closing the digital divide must be a funding priority. It remains unknown what school looks like when reopening occurs and what will be needed to ensure it’s safe. Issues of personal protective gear, social distancing measures, cleaning of facilities, lower class sizes or staggered class schedules continue to be debated.

Additional Hearings

The legislature, working under an incredibly short timeline due to the statewide COVID-19 stay at home order, will continue to hold hearings and move forward with negotiations, even though revenues will not be available until after the June 15 constitutional deadline to send the budget to the Governor. There are likely months of uncertainty ahead as state leaders grapple with the sharp economic downturn and critical health and safety issues that focus almost entirely on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Guidance on Safely Reopening Schools

On Thursday, the CDE held a webinar to discuss how to safely reopen schools this fall where districts from around the state shared their reopening plans. Superintendent Tony Thurmond held a news conference Wednesday, offering a peek into what direction the guidance may take. "They need lots of personal protective equipment. There have to be masks and hand sanitizer and the ability for hand washing and other resources for our schools to open safely. We know that having access to this personal protective equipment is a critical factor in the ability to reopen. Quite frankly, our schools cannot reopen without it."

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) released guidance this week on how to safely reopen the nation, including recommendations on reopening schools. The guidance included using face coverings for staff and students, spacing desks 6 feet apart and facing the same direction, and daily health checks whenever possible. The guidance also suggests intensified cleaning, disinfecting, and handwashing, limited access to communal spaces such as playgrounds and cafeterias, and seating students several rows apart on school buses.

University of California (UC) Drops SAT/ACT Requirement

On Thursday, the UC Regents unanimously voted to suspend SAT and ACT scores as part of undergraduate admissions through 2024. During the 2020 and 2021 admissions cycles, SAT/ACT scores can be submitted, but will become an optional component. During the 2022 and 2023 admission cycles the admissions process will become “test-blind,” meaning schools will not take an SAT/ACT into consideration when making an admissions decision. A new substitute standardized test will be developed by 2025, or a standardized test score component will be phased out permanently.