CSBA webinar takes a deep dive into the Governor’s 2021–22 budget proposal

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in a Jan. 8 press conference that his 2021–22 budget proposal provides approximately $90 billion total for K-14 schools, with the historic investment centering on equity as local educational agencies navigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A number of the Governor’s proposals will provide increased spending flexibility, said CSBA President Suzanne Kitchens during a CSBA webinar following the announcement. She noted, however, that the wide variety of student needs, extraordinary expenses during this time of crisis and local circumstances all stand in the way of ensuring equity in reopening schools throughout the state.

“We appreciate that the Governor’s budget makes a significant investment in K-12 education, and we appreciate the emphasis that he’s placing on public schools, (but) at this time, the investment and supports are not in every case sufficient to achieve the intended goals,” Kitchens said. “While some schools will undoubtedly take advantage of the incentives to reopen schools this spring, others are not in a position to do so given community health concerns, local standards, funding and resources, staffing and capacity limitations. We have work to do on both the school reopening and summer school plans before they make sense for all school districts and county offices of education.”

CSBA’s webinar featured analysis of Newsom’s budget proposal by the organization’s Governmental Relations team, local school board trustees and Politico education reporter Mackenzie Mays.

The budget reflects the Governor’s call for immediate legislative action to quickly provide $2 billion in targeted Proposition 98 funding specifically to support and accelerate safe returns to in-person instruction starting in February, with priority for returning the youngest children (transitional kindergarten through 2nd grade) and those with the greatest needs first. While the CA Safe Schools for All plan aims to expedite school reopenings — a goal shared by CSBA — But the reality is that only some school districts, and none of the state’s largest, are in a position to take advantage. In addition, the Feb. 1 application deadline makes it unrealistic for most districts to meet. CSBA believes a much more generous and comprehensive program is needed to facilitate on-campus instruction throughout California.

Specifically, Newsom’s 2021–22 state budget proposal includes:

  • A 3.84 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to the Local Control Funding Formula;
  • $4.6 billion to address learning loss, including for summer school or an otherwise extended school year;
  • $400 million for student mental health services; and
  • a $315 million package for teacher professional development focused on how to “reengage” students after nearly a year of school closures.

All of these funds will prioritize students and communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, with funds strongly weighted toward schools serving students from low-income families, foster youth, homeless students, English learners and others disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, Newsom said. Additionally, he noted growth in capital gains and overall revenues triggers deposits of roughly $3 billion into the Public School System Stabilization Account, resulting in a statutory cap of 10 percent on local school district reserves in 2022–23.

A breakdown of Prop 98 proposals highlights CSBA advocacy

The budget proposal reflects a handful of priorities brought forth in the past year from CSBA’s PACERs (Public Affairs and Community Engagement Representatives) and local district leaders who expressed concern that funding for education was being deeply reduced just as schools and students needed it most. For instance, some of the Governor’s Proposition 98 proposals include paying off two-thirds of the apportionment deferrals from the last budget, as well as a COLA provision in the current year and budget year totaling 3.8 percent — both top priorities among CSBA members.

“We’re really happy to see that,” CSBA Legislative Advocate Cheryl Ide said of the COLA provision in particular. “That was another effort where we worked together with many of our colleagues in the education circles to make sure we sent that information to all of the folks at the Capitol and in the administration so they knew that was something we would like to see in the budget, and here it is.”

In response to a viewer question later in the webinar, Ide acknowledged that the proposed “highest-ever” school budget included a significant amount of funds that would be paying down deferrals — money already owed to schools. Other Prop 98 proposals include $300 million for early special education service​s and $265 million for community school expansion. Newsom’s proposal also continues employer CalSTRS/CalPERS contribution relief into 2021–22 — from 18.1 percent to 15.9 percent, and 24.9 percent to 23 percent respectively. ​

Proposed in-person instruction grants may be hindered by testing requirements

The Safe Schools for All in-person instruction grants are going to be a major focus moving forward, said CSBA Assistant Executive Director of Governmental Relations Dennis Meyers.

Districts only have until Feb. 1 to apply for base grants of $450 per student if they reopen elementary schools for in-person learning. While the $450 rate is based on average daily attendance, supplemental and concentration grant funds based on school rates of at-risk students will mean that the grants could range from $700-800 for some LEAs. These funds, available until December 2021, can be used for any purpose consistent with providing in-person instruction for any pupil participating in in-person instruction, including:

  • Salaries for certificated or classified employees providing in-person instruction or services
  • Social and mental health support services provided in conjunction with in- person instruction
  • COVID-19 testing
  • Personal protective equipment
  • Ventilation and other site upgrades necessary for health and safety

The application requires schools to submit a COVID-19 safety plan, which would include regular coronavirus testing for students and staff, adherence to Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Emergency Standards and a copy of collective bargaining agreements with their teachers union. For children who choose to remain in distance learning, schools will also be required to show that students have access to a device and high-speed internet. The plan would be submitted to the local health department.

By Feb. 16, schools seeking the in-person instruction grants must provide optional in-person instruction to “at least” K-2 students, children without internet access, special education students, foster youth and homeless children. The funding expands to students up to the sixth grade in March, requiring in-person instruction for those students by March 15.

The Safe Schools for All plan includes mandatory COVID-19 testing of staff and students. How broad and frequent testing should occur depends on the county’s tier: weekly for everyone where the virus is widespread (in the upper range of the purple tier, between 14 and 28 cases per 100,000) to biweekly testing or testing only students with symptoms of the virus in the lower tiers of red, orange and yellow.

“You can see here the level of testing that would be associated with wanting to apply for these funds,” Meyers said, noting that there are a lot of questions LEAs will need to consider around timing and cost. “Can you get your program together that fast? Can you put your testing together that fast? How much will this $450 per ADA grant allow you to do? Do you need more (personal protective equipment)? How much of this testing cadence is going to eat into that $450 per ADA? Those are all the things you need to consider, and already, those are concerns that we’ve expressed.”

Local boards want to see how things shake out before they celebrate

Nancy Chaires Espinoza, an Elk Grove Unified School District board member, called the budget proposal a “mixed bag,” and said she shared many of Meyers’ concerns. Knowing that the state is looking to fund COLAs and pay back at least two-thirds of the money owed to districts in deferrals is a relief, and at the end of the day, she said all LEAs share the goal of wanting to get students back in classrooms as soon as safely possible.

“Where I sit as a school board member, we all really want to see how this is going to pencil out,” Chaires Espinoza said. “We did some back-of-the-envelope (math), so for my district, assuming about 62,000 ADA, we said, ‘what if only 15,000 students choose to go in person?’”

After some quick calculating, Chaires Espinoza said that even if her district became eligible to reopen campuses in March, the $21 million or so that Elk Grove USD would receive would only cover part of the testing piece — that leaves PPE procurement, additional deep cleaning, staffing costs and more to be shouldered by districts.

“The logistics of course are also pretty incredible,” she said. “The idea that we would have to create our own testing operation, even if you rely on healthcare as the tester of choice for your employees, what are the logistics of sending them there? How much time off are we going to need? We’re already in a substitute shortage, so do you create your testing centers on-site? That’s a lot to work out in a very short period of time.”

Mackenzie Mays, an education reporter for Politico, said she has heard similar concerns expressed from other district leaders, lawmakers and advocates. Compared to the dismal outlook just last year, this 2021–22 budget proposal is something to celebrate. At least for now.

“Once everything sort of settles down, it’s more about how the money can be spent and what’s being said in the budget, maybe even more in the words than the numbers,” Mays said. “What I mean by that is we’re seeing the Governor come out and say in this budget document, ‘we want to see as many kids as possible in classrooms, here’s money, and here’s who is allowed to use it.’”

This proposal is just the beginning, Meyers said. Budget negotiations will begin as the Legislature reconvenes on Jan. 11 and continue throughout the spring. The Governor’s May budget revision must be released on or before May 15 and negotiations will continue until the June 15 deadline to send the final agreement to the Governor, who will have until July 1 to sign it. CSBA will continue to provide updates as the budget season progresses.