Last week Governor Newsom announced a $2 billion plan to return elementary students to in-person instruction beginning in mid-February of 2021. His plan includes extensive testing requirements for students and teachers and state approved safety plans. He argued that the money is consistent with his administration’s plan that began last July which has allowed waivers for schools in the purple tier. Most of the waivers granted to date have been for private schools, which furthered the inequity in education that already existed. Wealthy, white children returned to in-person learning at a much higher rate than low-income, minority children.
Unfortunately, this plan was one that Newsom should have unveiled last June when it was clear that the state had chosen not to eradicate the virus. Students could have been back in school safely in the Fall. Instead, Newsom made sure that restaurants opened instead of schools. He didn’t get testing set up for schools then. He didn’t even provide comprehensive guidelines for schools until the start of the new school year in several districts. Now that a vaccine is slowly rolling out, he has proposed a plan which is likely to be little more than lip service.
First, if he vaccinated all the teachers by February 15, it would be much safer for everyone to return to school. Second, if he looked at the science related to school openings, he would know that schools could reopen safely. According to a recent report, schools do spread the virus but rarely are superspreaders. Furthermore, that data is based on no one being vaccinated. We can’t know what will happen until schools open. Third, the risk of the virus is to the elderly, not children. For children, COVID-19 is less risky than the flu. So, students may be able to go back to school either way once the at-risk population (i.e. elderly) are vaccinated.
So, here we are with needless proposals that are 8 months too late. Instead, the state should take that $2 billion to address long-term education issues. To name a few:
- Teacher shortages (California has a widespread and ongoing teacher shortage with no real solution)
- Teacher pay
- Universal preschool
- Addressing the child poverty rate of 24%
- College tuition (or ending it in public education as was originally the plan)
- Expanding the public university system for a growing population
- Reducing needless waste on standardized testing
- Addressing charter fraud and embezzlement
- Increasing student funding (California is 41st in the United States yet one of the wealthiest states)
- Fixing long overdue infrastructure in schools including air systems
In short, Newsom continues to show us that he understands little about what needs to be done to support our students. The $2 billion is too late.