Newsom, state leaders reach school reopening deal

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Gov. Gavin Newsom has reached a deal with state lawmakers aimed at getting most public school children back in their classrooms by the end of March.

The deal does not require schools to open but provides financial incentives of up to $6.6 billion for school districts that are able to reopen by March 31.

"We incentivize opening up schools by providing real resources to do it. We expect that all of our TK-2 classrooms open within the next month. We want to see more happen beyond that," said Gov. Newsom.

Roughly $2 billion will be available to pay for PPE, ventilation and testing and the remaining $4.6 billion will cover the costs to expand services and extend the school year into the summer.

To get the money, districts must resume in-person instruction for transitional kindergarten through the second grade. Districts in counties in the red or less restrictive tiers, must offer in-person instruction for all elementary school grades and at least one older grade.

Districts will also lose money the longer it takes to reopen.

Starting on April 1, the amount of funding available to districts will decrease by 1% each day. The proposal does not require schools to open but the governor hopes the funding will make it easier to get the ball rolling.

"Our core belief is this: once you dip your toe in, once you build a cohort confidently, once you build trust, then we will start to see a cadence of reopening across the spectrum."

Politico reported that the deal also specifies that regular testing of students and staff is only required when counties are in the purple tier and exempts schools that are already open.

The proposal does not require staff and students to be vaccinated, a key sticking point in negotiations between districts and teachers unions across the state. But while the proposal sets certain guidelines, final decisions on reopening still fall to local school boards and unions will certainly continue to push for stricter safety measures.

Union leaders were noticeably absent from a news conference announcing the deal.

Senate pro Tem Toni Atkins said even if classrooms are able to open this month, it won’t make up for what has already been lost.

"We need to heal and we need to heal together and we need to do it understanding that our work is far from done. But this today is a good place to be."

The State Legislature is expected to pass the proposal this week and get Gov. Newsom's signature on Thursday.

"We want schools to safely reopen, we believe they can safely reopen," the governor said. "We believe the data and the science bear that out."