EdSource asked education leaders, teachers, union leaders, lawmakers, advocates and observers to weigh in on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s record-level, revised 2021-22 budget for K-12 education, and what they thought would most advance students’ recovery from the impact of the pandemic and what they felt was missing.
Q: What among the governor’s proposals will most advance students’ recovery from the pandemic and why?
Debi Bober, National Board Certified fifth grade teacher at Cubberley K-8 in Long Beach: “The governor’s equity-focused proposals target the desperate needs of our highest-priority students: students from low-income families, English learners, students experiencing homelessness and those in foster care. This focus on equity includes scaling tiered school support systems and school-based health. The governor’s investments in expanded learning and summer enrichment have significant potential to advance students’ recovery by providing essential in-person connections our students have gone without. Our students deserve the governor’s immediate attention. These proposals demonstrate his investment in student recovery now.”
Lance Izumi, senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute: “Given that only 16% of California public school students are receiving full-time in-person instruction, the governor’s proposal to increase funding for expanding broadband access may make remote learning more effective and equitable, since almost half of Californians do not have the broadband required for video conferencing. However, this digital divide has been well known for years, so it is therefore disturbing that the governor did not push harder to reopen schools sooner, especially given the scientific evidence supporting safe reopening of schools and the huge learning losses sustained by students as they have struggled with schools’ inadequate distance-learning efforts.”
Tony Thurmond, State Superintendent of Public Instruction: “It’s the highest level of funding ever for K–12 schools — an increase of $8.2 billion over the Governor’s proposed budget in January—and I believe that unprecedented investments in class-size reduction; teacher preparation, learning acceleration, and tutoring; universal meals, summer school and after-school programs; universal transitional kindergarten; and wraparound mental health, social, and family services will be critical to put students and families back on track as California continues to make its way out of the pandemic.”
Patricia Gándara, co-director of Civil Rights Project at UCLA, which focuses on racial equity research and policy: “At K-12, the students, particularly those from low-income backgrounds, need more time to catch up – longer year, longer week, summer school – but there needs to be a plan now for how to create this. One good idea is to cut back severely on testing to gain back those days of testing and test prep. There needs to be an emphasis on project-based and group learning so that the time does not become tedious and socialization and mental health-oriented activities can be folded in. I am very excited about the community school funding.”
E. Toby Boyd, California Teachers Association (CTA): “The governor’s proposal to invest in academic programs as well as mental health and social and family supports, including the prioritization of establishing community schools for this coming year and beyond will be instrumental. We appreciate the investments in teacher training, efforts to support educators in high-needs schools, and resources to reduce staffing ratios and hire additional teachers, nurses and counselors. Viruses like Covid and other ailments don’t pick the school or campus that is staffed with nurses or counselors. We need trained professionals in each and every school site to address the needs of students in real time.”
Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, Sixth Assembly District: “Unfortunately, the governor proposed $20 billion in new spending to “re-imagine public education” but failed to include any of the reforms needed to improve our ranking as one of the worst states in the country to get an education. He also continued to perpetuate the false narrative that our schools are still not safe and openly supports California’s ongoing assault on charter schools. If Newsom truly wanted to re-imagine our education system, he would empower parents and expand school choice, rather than invest more money in the same broken system.”
Lance Christensen, Chief Operations Officer at the California Policy Center: “The last year has been a loss for most of the 6 million kids in K-12 education who subsisted on Zoom classes and learning that was distant from any serious expectations. While the governor promises that kids will be back to school full-time in the fall, many of the state’s unions are demanding more resources without the guarantee of complying, never mind that $93.7 billion in Proposition 98 funding is the highest it’s ever been. What are parents to do when charter school funding is frozen, forestalling educational options?”
Assemblyman Phil Ting, Assembly District 19: “The most important thing we can do right now is reopen schools. The impact of learning loss due to this pandemic cannot be understated, and we owe it to our students to ensure they have access to high-quality education and not Zoom in a room. Because of our unprecedented budget surplus, we have an opportunity to invest in K-12 education like never before and focus on ways to ensure learning loss that occurred during the pandemic is diminished. Three pieces of the governor’s “Transforming Schools” package are the Assembly’s priorities:
- Universal transitional kindergarten: We need to give all kids a jump start in life, preparing them to succeed in their schooling years ahead.
- Community schools expansion: Schools cannot close the achievement gap alone. A communitywide approach that meets the nonacademic needs of children can make a significant impact on educational outcomes.
- $1 billion for expanding learning: All children in under-resourced communities should have after school and summer school options right on campus.”
Q: What priority should have been in the budget but wasn’t?
Lance Izumi, senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute: “The governor touts his proposed college savings accounts for vulnerable students. Yet, public schools aren’t preparing these students for college, with 73% of low-income students not meeting grade-level math standards in 2018-19. Rather than creating a college savings account aimed at the back end of K-12 education, the governor should have proposed an education savings account (ESA) at the front end, where parents could access funds to pay for private-school tuition, tutoring and other achievement-improving expenses. States like Arizona and Florida have such accounts. Recent research shows that ESAs would deliver significant economic benefits to students such as higher lifetime earnings.”
Jessica Maxwell, Deputy Director, compassionate education systems at the National Center for Youth Law: “I was most disappointed in the lack of virtual learning options for the upcoming school year, (as) communities of color and families with essential workers were some of the hardest hit and may not be readily able to reintegrate into full-time, in-person learning. While full details about the independent study options are not yet available, I hope (they) will include some needed innovations and accountability measures to ensure equitable access to learning.”
Jeff Freitas is the president of the California Federation of Teachers: “There are students who actually thrived in distance learning environments, and many students who will not be ready to return to in-person instruction in the fall. We must meet students where they are and should continue to provide targeted distance learning, especially in the face of future emergencies. With classroom and school cleanliness a continued priority, we should also invest in expanding our custodial workforce.”
Edgar Zazueta, Senior Director, policy and governmental relations, for the Association of California School Administrators: “While the governor proposes a number of ambitious proposals, there is continued concern regarding the long-term fiscal health of our schools. One notable omission was the lack of support for increasing CalSTRS and CalPERS pension contributions. Specific support for employer contributions would make discretionary funding available that can be used to sustain programs that are critical to students. Every dollar used to help mitigate increasing employer costs can translate into another dollar that can be utilized in the classroom.”
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