Superintendents of seven urban school districts, including the state’s four largest, are strongly criticizing Gov. Gavin funding plan to allow districts to reopen classrooms as soon as Feb. 15.

They are urging the governor to design a different funding plan that considers their unique needs and warn: “If nothing changes, many students in high-need communities are at risk of being left behind.”

Their criticisms, in a Jan. 6 letter, indicate they won’t pursue the funding incentives for school reopening that Newsom tied to a series of requirements as proposed. The unified districts are Los Angeles, San Diego, Long Beach, Fresno, Oakland, San Francisco and Sacramento City.

“A funding model which supports only schools in communities less impacted by the virus is at odds with California’s long-standing efforts to provide more support to students from low-income families,” they argue. “It also reverses a decade-long commitment to equity-based funding.”

While calling Newsom’s Safe Schools for All  “a start toward recovery,” their 7-page letter listed actions the state should take. They include:

  • Full and separate state funding for COVID testing of staff and students in addition to the district’s standard funding. Newsom proposes $2 billion from Proposition 98, the formula that determines the K-12 portion of the General Fund, to districts that send transitional kindergarten to second grade by Feb. 15 and third to sixth grades by March 15. Districts would get between $450 to $700 per student, depending on their enrollment of English learners, low-income, foster and homeless youths. Most of the seven districts would get much more than the minimum funding that could cover costs of administering and collecting samples for the tests. Employees’ insurance, private insurers and state Medi-Cal would pick up most of the cost of the tests, which a state-funded lab in Valencia would perform.
  • Creation of one set of statewide, uniform COVID protocols, after “coordination” with labor leaders.  That’s instead of districts and counties negotiating their own agreements.  All seven districts have strong teacher unions that have delayed an earlier return to the classroom over safety issues. Once set, the state should require all schools to return to school, the letter states.  “No local stakeholder — whether a superintendent, school board, labor partner or community organization — should have an effective veto over the reopening of classrooms,” the superintendents said.
  • An “immediate, all-hands-on-deck” state effort to attack the spread of the virus in low-income communities – the predominant neighborhoods in the districts – where unemployment and the COVID rates are high. “Public health officials must tackle this challenge head-on or we will be left with more of the same: continued high rates of the virus in low-income communities that make it unsafe to reopen classrooms,” the letter said.
  • The designation of school-based health centers as providers of COVID testing and vaccinations, so that they can be reimbursed, just as cities and third-party providers like CVS Pharmacy.
  • Immediate state funding of summer school and establishment of “learning loss recovery plans.” Newsom indicated last week that he would provide information on summer funding in presenting the state budget on Friday.
  • More funding for students with disabilities once there is in-person instruction.

The seven superintendents argue that under the governor’s plan they would be denied funding because of COVID infection rates they cannot control, they said.

Under Newsom’s plan, districts could not begin to send students back to school until the infection rates had fallen below 28 cases per 100,000 residents. That would currently exclude most counties, but rates in rural and more affluent districts will likely fall below the threshold sooner than in urban areas, creating inequities, the superintendents stated. It’s unlikely their districts could meet Newsom’s reopening goal of Feb. 15 or even March 15, they said.

Dozens of school districts in Orange, San Diego, Kern, Marin and suburban and rural areas had already starting sending some students back to school before the latest surge.  Those districts could reopen but they’d only receive extra funding if they adopt a strict testing regimen and a union-backed checklist of safety precautions.

The urban districts would get more funding per student under Newsom’s proposed equity based formula – only it would be delayed until their infection rates fall below the 28 cases per 100,000. Meanwhile, districts like Los Angeles and San Diego, which have begun extensive testing, would not get reimbursed.

Story originally published by EdSource.