More public school districts in Ventura County are finalizing and announcing concrete reopening dates in the wake of the state’s $6.6 billion education bill signed into law Friday.
Assembly Bill 86 marks a significant push by Governor Gavin Newsom and lawmakers to open schools to in-person instruction and address learning loss.
It will provide much-needed funding to schools preparing for reopening as well as those looking to expand their offerings. The bill also addresses COVID-19 safety protocols, case reporting requirements and the availability of vaccine doses for educators and staff.
However, accepting the funds means managing the conditions attached to them. Local educational agencies — that is, districts, county offices of education, charter schools, and state special schools — are required to provide “in-person instruction to the extent possible”.
This includes hybrid models that offer less than five days of in-person instruction per week if that is as much as possible by the agency.
Notably, they will have to bring back at least some students by early April to avoid a partial or complete loss of their share of $2 billion in funding specifically earmarked for in-person teaching support.
“The law also defines priority groups of students and these include a broad spectrum of students that I would characterize as encompassing almost all of our students,” Ventura Unified School District Superintendent Roger Rice said during the meeting. district school board meeting on Tuesday.
The text of the bill encourages agencies to prioritize students “who would benefit most from in-person instruction,” such as students with disabilities, who are homeless or in foster care, who are learning English or who are disengaged and need support.
Budget forces districts to act quickly
The money, which comes from the state’s general fund through Proposition 98, will be distributed primarily based on the state’s Local Control Funding Formula, which determines funding for K-12 school districts. grade and charter schools based on many factors.
The $6.6 billion is split into two broad categories. Ventura Unified will likely receive about $15 million, according to District Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Rebecca Chandler.
About $4.6 billion is for additional education and support. Ventura Unified’s share will most likely be around $10 million. To get the money, which can be used until August 31, 2022, the school board would need to approve a plan for how the money will be spent by June 1.
The money can be used for things like creating opportunities for more learning time, tutoring, professional development, health and counseling services, and credit recovery programs.
Each agency — district, charter school, and regional office of education — can use up to 15% of fund expenses for distance education. Of the amount allocated, 10% must go to paraeducators – generally employees who work with students and support teachers – with a priority to help English-speaking and special education students.
Rice explained that the intent of this provision is to avoid layoffs and increase services where possible. However, he expressed concern for the future.
“It’s required by law to do it with one-time money and once that money runs out, then that means making staffing adjustments on the backend and that’s a euphemism for layoffs,” Rice said. .
He said he and his staff plan to work with the Ventura Education Support Professionals Association, school principals and others to identify current needs. Based on previous high turnover rates among paraeducators, he said he hopes the district doesn’t have to experience significant layoffs.
The remaining $2 billion is to be spent supporting in-person training. Chandler estimates that VUSD will receive $5 million, including funding for items such as personal protective equipment, safety supplies, academic upgrades for in-person instruction, salaries for hybrid/in-person employees. person and more.
This is where the time element comes in. To be eligible for funding, an agency must initiate some form of in-person instruction. If the county the school is in is in the most restrictive purple tier of the state’s four-color COVID surveillance system, it must offer optional in-person instruction through small cohorts.
When the county’s COVID-19 case rate is below 25 cases per 100,000 population, it must provide education for students in kindergarten through sixth grade.
In the second most stringent red level, the school must offer in-person to K-6, plus another additional full level.
Districts that accept their share of the $2 billion must open by April 1, or lose 1% of funds each day instruction is not conducted through May 15. After that, if the schools haven’t reopened yet, the district will have to lose the money.
Most Ventura County spring break occurs in early April. Districts would not be penalized during breaks.
In Ventura Unified, the 1% penalty would mean about $150,000 lost per day, according to Rice.
“I haven’t seen a bill in many years be this prescriptive and this demanding on what they want, why they want it and put in place penalties if you don’t do what they expect,” did he declare. “It’s very unique in my experience.”
Schools must also stay open until the end of the school year to keep the money.
Extend in-person learning in VUSD
K-5 students whose families have chosen blended learning have already returned to Ventura Unified. However, the district is considering “reassigning all days of the week” to have more in-person learning time as well as reducing social distancing to 4 feet between student desks if necessary and maximizing the use of facilities. to bring more kids to campuses.
“I’ve said since day one that social distancing was the biggest barrier to getting people back all day,” Rice said. “Twenty-eight kids or 35 kids don’t fit in the room with 6 feet of social distancing.”
The 4 feet come from the state’s January Schools Classroom Guidelines, which state that the distance between students’ chairs should be Not less than this length. Otherwise, a distance of six feet is still required between teachers and students.
During public comments, a number of parents spoke in favor of increasing the number of children on campus.
Alyssa Anderson, a parent of a middle and high school student, spoke about the need to get high school children back to school full-time.
“I realize hybrid is our only option right now, but it’s not a long-term solution and it will continue to harm our children,” she said.
Anderson said the long and irreparable harm done to children cannot continue.
“I keep hearing that my kids are resilient, and it’s true, but why should they be?” she says.
The district plans to bring transitional kindergarten through fifth grade students back for full-time in-person instruction by April 12 by using the 4-foot distance between student desks, replacing furniture, and identifying more teaching spaces.
The district is still determining what “full-time” hours will look like at all levels, including elementary, according to Gina Wolowicz, the district’s K-5 director of curriculum and instruction.
At the high school level, the district tentatively plans to hold orientation days on March 31 and April 1 — the last two days of third term before spring break — with an official hybrid start date of April 12. Rice said bringing more high school students to campus is a bit more difficult because things like the 4-foot distancing wouldn’t help due to class sizes.
For example, classes may need to be split in half to meet safety requirements, but the district does not necessarily have the teacher candidates to accommodate this. There are also concerns about schedule changes and high school-specific credit requirements.