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Governor’s Budget Would Require Schools To Offer Full-Time, In-Person Classes By Fall

Image of a first grader bounds toward a restroom on the campus of Brainard Avenue Elementary in Lake View Terrace.
A first grader bounds toward a restroom on the campus of Brainard Avenue Elementary in Lake View Terrace. L.A. Unified School District campuses follow rules requiring six feet of distance between all staff and students at a time — which means restroom capacity is limited.
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If Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget proposal becomes law, public schools across California would be expected to provide full-time, in-person instruction next fall.

“We want kids back in person this fall full-time,” Newsom said Friday as he unveiled his budget vision — and if the legislature approves that proposal on June 30, “the statute will make it crystal clear that that is, indeed, a requirement.”

Newsom’s budget plan would once again make in-person instruction the “default” way for schools to get state funding, according to a summary of the proposal. Newsom’s proposal would allow students to remain in distance learning mode at their parent’s request without jeopardizing their school’s funding.

State Teachers Union Is Open To The Idea

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California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks at a podium, his hands raised next to the microphone.
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 06: California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a news conference after touring the vaccination clinic at City College of San Francisco on April 06, 2021.
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Right now, at least eight out of every 10 public schools in California offer in-person instruction at least part-time — though an L.A. Times analysis shows only about half of students have actually returned to campuses.

Before we get too ahead of ourselves: State legislators actually write the spending plan. A lot can happen between now and the legislature’s June 15 deadline.

Plus, over the last six weeks, Newsom has made clear his “expectation” that campuses fully reopen by fall — so it’s not surprising that his budget vision reflects that rhetoric.

Still, if Newsom’s budget passes, that expectation would have the force of law.

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And an important interest group signaled its openness to Newsom’s expectation on Friday: the state’s largest teachers’ union, the California Teachers Association.

“While we expect that safe, in-person instruction will be the norm in the fall,” wrote CTA president E. Toby Boyd in a statement, “we believe, as a matter of equity, parents must have access to a high quality, independent learning option for students with diverse and complex needs.”

An End To Hybrid Schedules?

According to a summary, Newsom’s budget proposal calls for changes to state law that would make full-time, in-person instruction “one of only two ways in which local educational agencies can earn state apportionment funding in 2021-22.”

The other way? “By serving students outside the classroom in response to parent requests.”

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This summary suggests a possible end not only to mandatory distance learning, but to hybrid schedules that bring students on-campus part-time or for only a few days a week.

Hybrid schedules have allowed districts to ensure at least some students could return to campus to receive vital services during the waning days of the 2020-21 school year. But the hybrid schedules are a turn-off for many students and parents — and teachers have grown weary of juggling in-person and remote groups.

“Unless there’s a compelling reason, [hybrid learning] is not just untenable and unsustainable, it’s educationally disastrous,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers labor union, in a major policy speech this week, according to Chalkbeat.

In response to follow-up questions, CTA spokesperson Lisa Gardiner said the union was open to ending the hybrid schedules.

“It’s not going to look the same as the hybrid or distance learning offered this year,” Gardiner said, “but we believe there has to be some viable virtual pathways for parents similar to a more robust independent studies program that has been offered for decades in California.”

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Newsom’s proposal does call for “a series of improvements to the state’s existing independent study programs.”

On top of record funding levels for public schools, Newsom’s revised budget also calls for an additional $2 billion to help schools pay for safety precautions to allow for a return to in-person schedules. These funds could pay for COVID-19 testing and vaccine programs in schools, as well for other cleaning and safety supplies.