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With Grim Projections In Revised State Budget, Local School Officials Call For Federal Help

The outside of the San Diego Unified School District Education Center is shown on May 8, 2018.
Megan Wood
The outside of the San Diego Unified School District Education Center is shown on May 8, 2018.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s revised budget projects nearly $19 billion in cuts to education funding. San Diego Unified leaders say their plan for reopening hinges on more federal stimulus money.

San Diego Unified School District is putting together a plan for reopening its schools this fall that includes putting a nurse on every campus and cutting class sizes in half to ensure social distancing. But the plan won’t leave the drawing board unless the federal government steps in.

That’s because Gov. Gavin Newsom Thursday announced his revised budget, which cuts $19 billion from the state’s education budget over the next two years. San Diego Unified, the state’s second-largest school district, stands to endure tens of millions in cuts under the governor’s proposal.

Newsom was quick to call for help from Washington D.C.

“If the federal government does what it must do under the circumstances to help states large and small across the nation, these cuts would go away,” Newsom said on Thursday.

VIDEO: Newsom Presents "May Revise" Of The State Budget As The County Announces New Assistance Program

Thursday’s budget revisions show just how much damage the coronavirus pandemic had done to the state’s finances. In January, Newsom was unveiling ambitious plans for universal preschool and investing more in special education.

“The overwhelming majority of those proposals we are now pulling back,” Newsom said. “Those are enhancements to the baseline budget.”

Just four months later, the second draft of the state’s budget doesn’t provide enough for schools to safely reopen, according to San Diego Unified School Board Member Richard Barrera.

Barrera said the HEROES Act, a $3 trillion stimulus bill proposed by Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, would provide the district the funding it needs to execute its reopening strategy. But the bill won’t make it through the Republican-held Senate in its current form and President Trump has already issued a veto threat.

If San Diego Unified were to receive the approximately $250 million that the HEROES ACT offers the district, it would have enough to execute a safe reopening, Barrera said. Schools would open as scheduled in the fall and possibly earlier for vulnerable student groups who need more time to make up learning.

“For us, we’re in a position where we’re ready to go with a reopening plan that works for students and continues online distance learning for students or parents who are not comfortable with going back to school yet,” he said. “But we can’t do that until the federal government acts.”

San Diego Unified was already preparing to make about $84 million in cuts before the pandemic struck. Since schools closed in March, the district has spent about $19 million covering the cost of wireless internet hotspots and training teachers in distance learning.

Barrera painted a dire picture in the event the hoped-for funding doesn’t come.

“It’s very unlikely that we could physically reopen at any point during the year,” Barrera said. “More students will fall behind. More students will experience stress and anxiety.”

With Grim Projections In Revised State Budget, Local School Officials Call For Federal Help
Listen to this story by Joe Hong.