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Newsom: Schools that reopen this month to get billions in extra state funds

Students walked to class at Sunset Hills Elementary School in Poway in October
Students walked to class at Sunset Hills Elementary School in Poway in October.
(Sandy Huffaker/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Some San Diego districts have March reopening dates, but others already committed to opening in April or later

Gov. Gavin Newsom set an April 1 reopening deadline for schools if they want to get their share of $6.6 billion in state reopening funding incentives.

Those incentives could entice local districts that have yet to set a reopening date and others that already have committed to opening in April or later.

Of the $6.6 billion, $2 billion is for school safety measures, such as routine COVID testing or ventilation upgrades. The other $4.6 billion is for schools to address learning loss and other pandemic impacts on students. For example, schools could use the money to pay for summer school, an extended school year, tutoring or mental health counseling.

Under the budget deal announced by Newsom and legislative leaders on Monday, March 1, schools must reopen for at least transitional kindergarten through second grade and all high-needs students by the end of March to qualify.

Schools that do not offer in-person instruction by the end of the month for all students in transitional kindergarten through 2nd grades, as well as high-needs students, will be penalized. They will lose 1 percent of their apportioned incentive funding for each school day they are closed past March 31.

“We expect that all of our TK-to-2 classrooms open within the next month,” Newsom said during a Monday, March 1, media briefing.

Newsom, who is facing a possible recall election, has been under pressure by some parent groups and others to reopen schools. Also COVID-19 case rates have declined significantly in recent weeks.

“You cannot reopen your economy unless you get your schools reopened for in-person instruction,” Newsom said. “You can’t meet the cause ... of equity ... unless you commit to getting our schools safely reopened in person.”

Most counties in the state are expected to be in the less-restrictive red tier in the next few weeks, Newsom said. If a county is in the red tier, schools that fail to open for students in all elementary grades and at least one middle or high school grade will be penalized, losing some incentive funding, he said.

The incentive plan awaits legislative approval. Much of it is expected to be doled out based on the state’s formula for school funding.

San Diego Unified, with 97,000 students, has announced a reopening date of April 12, which is contingent on the county’s vaccine rollout to school staff going smoothly and on the county reaching the red tier.

But the district expects to get no less than 95 percent of the incentive money in the budget deal, said Board President Richard Barrera. That’s because the district is on spring break from March 29 to April 2, so the earliest the district could reopen anyway is on April 5.

Other districts, though, have set later reopening dates and could lose out on some funding. For example, La Mesa-Spring Valley, with 11,000 students, has announced it will reopen April 19.

South Bay Union School District, with 4,600 students, decided on Feb. 11 that it will not open for the rest of this school year, even though San Diego County is close to reaching the case rate threshold that would allow all schools to reopen.

Other districts, mainly in North County, were already planning before the governor’s announcement to reopen this month.

San Dieguito Union High, which has been closed to in-person instruction since the pandemic began, plans to reopen on March 8.

Poway Unified, whose elementary schools have been open since October, plans to open its middle and high schools on March 15.

Both districts announced recently that they got approval from the county to reopen their middle and high schools, even though the county is not yet in the red tier, through a special reopening application process. If the state approves their application within the coming days, then those districts are cleared to reopen.

Carlsbad Unified said Sunday, Feb. 28, that it also got county approval to reopen, but it has not yet announced a planned reopening date on its website.

The North County districts applied to reopen through a special process that the state established last month. The process allows schools or districts to apply to reopen if they believe they qualified to do so before the state released its new school reopening restrictions on Jan. 14.

In addition to those districts, Oceanside Unified announced weeks ago that it plans to reopen for elementary grades the week of March 15.

San Diego County currently has a daily new case rate of 15 per 100,000 residents, as of Monday, March 1. The county needs a case rate of 7 or less to return to the red tier, which would allow all schools to reopen without seeking approval.

If the county’s case rate reaches that threshold on Tuesday, March 2, then the county will officially be in the red tier as of Wednesday, March 3, and schools can open. At that point, there will be a minimum three-week window during which schools can reopen, even if the case rate rises above 7 again during that time.

The state expects to announce seven more counties that will qualify for the red tier on Tuesday, March 2, Newsom said. It’s unclear if San Diego will be one of them.

In addition to the funding incentives, the state’s school reopening plan includes dedicating 10 percent of the state’s vaccine supply to school staff. San Diego County has gone ahead and dedicated 20 percent of its supply to school staff, whom the county started vaccinating on Saturday, Feb. 27.

The state’s plan drew thanks and praise from the California Teachers Association, State Superintendent Tony Thurmond, EdTrust-West and the California Federation of Teachers, who said the plan will help schools to reopen safely. Teachers unions said they appreciate that the plan prioritizes vaccines for education staff, which is what several school districts are waiting for before reopening.

OpenSchoolsCA, a parent-led group with members in San Diego County, criticized the plan for prioritizing K-2 but not doing much to require that middle and high schools open. The group said it believes many schools will still be closed a month from now because this budget deal falls short of requiring all schools to open.

— Kristen Taketa is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune


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