Updated 7 p.m.
California lawmakers released a plan Thursday that would allow schools in counties with more relaxed COVID-19 restrictions to reopen for in-person learning for younger students as well as give school teachers and staff higher vaccine priority. But its chance of being passed and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom is slim.
The bill’s release comes a week after Gov. Gavin Newsom assured Californians that a deal between his administration and state lawmakers was expected in the coming days. But after failing to reach an agreement, lawmakers released a framework to reopen.
Newsom said Thursday night, hours after the text of the bill was released, that the proposal is not enough.
"While the Legislature’s proposal represents a step in the right direction, it doesn’t go far enough or fast enough,” Newsom said in a statement. “I look forward to building on the growing momentum to get our schools open and continuing discussions with the Legislature to get our kids back in school as safely and quickly as possible."
Senate President pro Tem Toni G. Atkins (D–San Diego) said that the bill, which was introduced by the Assembly and Senate budget committees, would “move us closer” to getting students back into classrooms after nearly a year of virtual learning.
“Here are two truths—California’s students need to get back in the classroom, and there is no easy solution to getting them there in the midst of the pandemic,” Atkins said in the statement.
She added: “Schools provide more than just academics — they lend the kind of supports and social interaction that kids have been lacking during this pandemic. … We need to do all we can to get campuses open safely, and keep them open.”
The multi-billion dollar plan would allow schools to resume in-person instruction for K-6 when their county enters the red tier — which indicates substantial COVID-19 spread — of the state’s reopening plan. It would also allow in-person learning for smaller cohorts of K-12 students who have struggled with virtual learning, lack access to equipment, are English Language Learners or need targeted learning support.
Schools would be required to offer in-person schooling to both of those groups by April 15.
It would provide $2 billion in reopening funds for this spring, $4.6 billion for learning loss recovery, and $6 billion in federal reopening aid.
School districts who want to receive funding are required to submit a completed COVID-19 safety plan to its county office of education. That plan would have to follow the state’s COVID-19 School Guidance Checklist, a framework released in January that lists standards for various safety measures.
The proposal would also require county public health departments to make COVID-19 vaccines available to faculty and staff who are working at schools that are slated to reopen. Lawmakers have not made it clear how that differs from the state’s current plan, which has teachers in Phase 1B of vaccine priority.
Vaccinations have been the biggest point of contention for teachers. The California Teachers Association, which is one of the state’s most powerful unions and represents more than 300,000 teachers, has argued school faculty and staff need the vaccine before any in-person class continues.
While Newsom has already given teachers higher COVID-19 vaccine priority, he’s also said there are not enough doses to administer before the end of the school year.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance on how and when schools should consider reopening.
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