COVID-19 update: Funding, college admissions and what’s next
California local educational agencies are beginning to settle in to the “new normal” of distance learning while schools are closed for in-person instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This unprecedented situation has come with its share of challenges that LEAs are working to meet head-on with creativity and determination.
mother and her sons working around a laptop
Districts and county offices of education across the state jumped into high gear when school closures were announced. Many began with surveying students and families about their need for devices and internet access and working to fill those gaps; launching professional development for distance learning; and quickly figuring out the best ways to distribute meals to ensure that all students in need could access the healthy food they would normally receive at school.
Meanwhile, the state and federal government have continued to roll out guidance related to graduation requirements, funding sources and labor management. Looking forward, Gov. Gavin Newsom said in an April 14 press conference that schools might operate much differently than usual when they resume. Among the six indicators that Gov. Newsom announced officials will consider before modifying the state’s stay-at-home order is “the ability for businesses, schools and child care facilities to support physical distancing.”

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To ensure physical distancing, Gov. Newsom said the return to school could feature staggered student arrivals and class schedules, as well as new ways of organizing mealtimes, recess and other large gatherings. The “deep sanitation” and “massive deep cleaning” of playgrounds, parks, benches and sidewalks could also be needed. While saying these issues will be discussed at the state level for weeks and months to come, the Governor acknowledged that exactly how schools will look will depends on local decisions and labor agreements.
On March 27, President Donald Trump signed into law the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, which provides emergency assistance and health care response for individuals, families, schools and businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Of note, the stimulus will deliver $16.5 billion in emergency funding for K-12 education, with $13.5 billion via formula grants for elementary and secondary education. California’s share of these funds is $1,647,306,127, of which $1,482,575,514 is the minimum distribution amount for LEAs. A share of $3 billion will also be available for governors in each state to allocate to LEAs hardest hit by the pandemic. California’s share of this pot is $355,227,235.

Importantly, in addition to the emergency K-12 funding, the bill includes $8.8 billion in additional funding for Child Nutrition Programs to ensure children continue to receive meals during an unprecedented number and duration of school closures.

“While nearly every school in California is closed for physical instruction out of paramount health and safety concerns, they are still working tirelessly to address the basic needs of students and develop methods to engage them in quality distance learning. This stimulus funding for K-12 schools is an important step as districts continue to operate in this unprecedented situation,” CSBA CEO & Executive Director Vernon M. Billy said.

Unfortunately, in this time of widespread distance learning, the package does not include sought-after additional E-rate funding to address home internet technology access concerns. However, the K-12 stabilization funding may be used for connectivity. A $2 billion allocation for broadband access for schools was in an earlier version of the bill but was removed. CSBA will continue to press for the need for investment in this critically important area.

“We write to express our disappointment with the lack of funding dedicated for distance learning in the third coronavirus relief package that recently passed Congress,” the letter states. “The E-Rate program is, and has been for over two decades, an essential source of funding to connect the nation’s schools and libraries to the internet. As the coronavirus pandemic develops, this program offers an immediate solution that may help mitigate the impact on our most vulnerable families. We believe additional funding for E-Rate would greatly narrow the homework gap during the current crisis and help ensure that all students can continue to learn.”

UC/CSU ease admission requirements
Responding to strong advocacy from CSBA and other education management organizations, the University of California and the California State University systems announced on April 1 that they would ease admission requirements for students impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the details differed, both systems agreed to a series of accommodations designed to address the disruption caused by school closures and distance learning as well as public anxiety about grading, testing and college matriculation.

While both UC and CSU posted separate guidance on their decisions, the announcement came in a joint statement from the two systems and the California State Board of Education, California Department of Education, California Community Colleges and the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities.

Specifically, UC and CSU said they would:
  • Suspend letter grade requirements for A-G courses completed in the winter, spring or summer of 2020 (instead accepting Pass or Credit ratings on the Pass/Fail system)
  • Relax timelines for the receipt of official transcripts and acceptance of admission offers
  • Reevaluate financial aid packages and eligibility
  • Accept Credit/No Credit for certain core courses taken at community colleges
  • UC and CSU also stated they would waive the SAT or ACT requirement for students applying for the fall of 2021.
Labor management
The sudden change of the public education landscape has brought with it rapidly evolving relations between LEAs and their bargaining units. In some instances, drawn-out negotiations and efforts to implement memoranda of understanding have delayed efforts to educate and otherwise serve students at a time when they may need it most. “This was a stubborn issue that manifested itself very differently in the 1,000-plus school districts throughout the state,” Gov. Newsom said.

In response, management organizations, including CSBA, the Association of California School Administrators, the California Association of School Business Officers and the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association collaborated with labor organizations, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond and representatives from the Governor’s office to produce the “Framework for Labor-Management Collaboration: Serving Local Communities During the COVID-19 Emergency.” The goal for the joint document — which is not intended to be used to disturb any existing memoranda of understanding — is to help districts more expeditiously and seamlessly implement their plans for providing high-quality educational offerings, serving meals, caring for younger students and paying employees.