The San Diego Unified School Board has decided to embark on a bold plan to reopen the schools this fall for students all day every day. But the only way this can be done for the full year is with the state providing as much as its revenues permit, along with stimulus money from the federal government.
Facing severe cutbacks in state funding for schools announced last month by the Governor, the Board and Superintendent had contemplated a continuation of distance learning. This would prolong significant learning loss for all students, but particularly low income students, English language learners, special education students and homeless and foster youth. However, the state legislature is planning to reverse those cuts. These state funds could cover the extra Covid-19 expenses at the beginning of the year. It would also allow for a high quality distance learning program for those families who choose not to return to the classroom. However, if federal stimulus money for public schools is not approved this summer the district would need to revert to distance learning for the second half of the year.
Some say opening the school year with insufficient funds for in-classroom learning all year is a high stakes gamble. But the Board determined that the alternative of a mediocre full year was not acceptable. Furthermore, the economy cannot fully reopen unless our schools are open full time for working parents.
So far only ½ of 1% of federal stimulus money has been awarded to public schools. The House of Representatives approved an additional $58B for public schools in the Heroes Act. Now the Senate needs to come up with a stimulus plan that specifically provides funds for public schools, the ultimate safety net in our communities. The Council of Great City Schools and all of the major national educational organizations have stated that a minimum of $175B is needed to keep our schools afloat as state and local revenues plummet. All of the additional Covid-19 costs require increased—not decreased–funding.
As difficult as it was to close our schools, we did not face the immediate existential threat that the airlines and other industries faced in March. But the day of reckoning for public schools will arrive before the first day of the school year. We cannot start the year with teacher layoffs, program cuts or distance only learning. Every school district needs to make its case directly to its state’s two US Senators with the personal stories of how this will affect our students. They will eventually find out, but it will be too late if we do not speak up now.