Leaders From Large Urban School Districts Criticize Governor’s Plan To Reopen Elementary Schools
San Diego Unified Superintendent Cindy Marten and her colleagues from other large urban school districts are saying Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new plan to reopen elementary schools will disproportionately benefit wealthier districts with relatively low COVID-19 case counts.
“Affluent communities where family members can work from home will see schools open with more funding,” stated the letter sent by Marten and superintendents from six other districts, including Los Angeles Unified. “Low-income communities bearing the brunt of the virus will see schools remain closed with lower funding.”
Under Newsom’s “Safe Schools for All” plan, unveiled in late December, a district can receive up to $750 per student if it’s able to begin in-person instruction at elementary schools. But only districts in counties with a seven-day average of fewer than 28 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents qualify for this funding.
Marten and the other superintendents argue that districts in affluent areas with lower case rates will be able to open first and take advantage of the extra state funding.
“Our tax dollars are going to the schools that need it the least, and that’s not good,” Marten said.
While the “Safe Schools For All” plan needs to be approved by the state legislature, schools could start reopening as soon as February 15. Another problem, Marten said, is the governor’s plan currently lacks details on how to regularly test students once they return to campus.
“You gotta start with testing, so that we can operate safely,” she said. “And the governor’s plan is not clear on that. The plan to get students back should focus first on public health.”
The letter also demands that public health funds rather than dollars earmarked for education be used to pay for COVID-19 testing and vaccinations at school. Additionally, the letter asks for additional funding for extended summer school and special education.
John Affeldt, a statewide civil rights lawyer specializing in education equity, he praised the Governor’s efforts to reopen schools.
“I think the governor deserves credit for pushing this conversation and not giving up on this year and figuring out a way to incentivize a way for schools to reopen,” said Affeldt, who works for the Bay Area-based Public Advocates law firm.
But Affeldt said he understands the concerns of Marten and the other superintendents. He says the solution is to allow districts in areas with low case counts to reopen while providing additional support to those in areas with high case counts.
He said the state needs to work with districts to achieve both goals at the same time and “open as many schools as we can and make sure we’re giving extra attention to the communities that are hardest hit so we can give those schools the chance to also reopen as quickly as possible.”