CSBA, Education Coalition caution that schools cannot safely reopen with current funding

CSBA joined administrators, business officials, educators, classified personnel and parents on Thursday as the Education Coalition urged California’s lawmakers to adopt a 2020–21 budget that provides sufficient funding to safely reopen schools this fall.

Among other severe cuts, the May Revision slashes 10 percent from the Local Control Funding Formula. The budget further lacks specific and sufficient funding to enact COVID-19 mitigation strategies in schools, such as purchasing the necessary personal protective equipment, testing, screening and deep cleaning, as well as modified procedures related to scheduling, transportation, classroom size and instruction.

“The May Revision budget proposal will prevent many schools from opening safely as expenses for COVID-19 response have exacerbated the already precarious financial situation of public schools,” CSBA CEO & Executive Director Vernon M. Billy said in a statement. “The Governor’s May Revise is simply not realistic. It’s equivalent to asking a Tesla owner to drive their electric car from Sacramento to Los Angeles and back on a single charge. It’s not realistic.”

The Governor’s Office is expected to release health and safety guidelines for schools on Friday, May 29, as local educational agencies plan and prepare to resume instruction in the 2020–21 academic year. Meaningful implementation of safety measures, however, is unattainable without a June solution to the budget shortfall.

CSBA Chief Information Officer Troy Flint spoke at the press conference and noted that California schools ranked just 38th in per-pupil funding before the pandemic saddled with them myriad additional costs and logistical challenges.

“California schools were already underfunded before the pandemic … We need to do a lot better for our students and a lot better for our staff. The current budget is absolutely inadequate to the challenge that’s facing our students and to the needs of this very perilous moment for our schools and for society at large,” Flint explained.

The dire message delivered in the press conference echoes the coalition’s May 20 letter to state policymakers opposing the drastic cuts laid out in the May Revision. The coalition put real numbers to what a 10-percent cut to the LCFF equates to:

  • Equivalent cut per student: $1,230
  • Equivalent cut per classroom: $21,667
  • Equivalent teacher layoffs (salary and benefits): 57,638
  • Equivalent classified employee layoffs: 125,000
  • Percentage increase in class size: 19.1 percent

Those numbers are alarming considering how many districts were already struggling to make ends meet.

“In February — before the pandemic — we conducted a survey of school districts’ financial conditions, which found that 77 percent of school districts were already deficit spending and more than a third were contemplating layoffs,” Billy said. “We are asking the Legislature and Governor for a realistic budget that funds our schools appropriately and allows us to provide students with an education in a safe and supportive environment during this pandemic.”

Reagan Duncan, an elementary school teacher in Vista USD, said during Thursday’s press conference that she’s extremely worried about what that level of cuts will mean for her students and district that is already facing declining enrollment. “I’m afraid for my students coming back to school, and I’m afraid that we’ll lose enrollment to private schools and private charters because the parents will be afraid to send their kids back if we can’t open up for them in a safe way,” Duncan said.

“The level of cuts that are proposed are going to decimate the programs that we worked so hard to put into place for the last few years and will set us back for years, if not decades, in my opinion,” added Holly Edds, superintendent of the Central Coast’s Orcutt Union School District. “The level of cuts proposed are going to have a lifelong impact on our students, but most especially our neediest ones.”

As discussions ramp-up about the reopening of schools, board members and the entire school community can join in advocating for these desperately needed funds at both the state and federal level. To help, CSBA has created an advocacy toolkit that includes a one-click link to send an email to state and federal representatives, as well as sample letters requesting adequate state and federal education funding, sample call scripts, social media posts and funding resolutions.

“As school boards weigh the heavy decisions they have to make as the people who are ultimately responsible for the school district and the students within it, students have to be the priority,” Flint said.

The Education Coalition is comprised of the nine statewide K–12 education associations that work closely to advocate for the 6 million students: CSBA, Association of California School Administrators, California Association of School Business Officials, California Teacher Association, California Federation of Teachers, California PTA, California County Superintendents Educational Services Association, Service Employees International Union and California School Employees Association.