What among the governor’s proposals will most advance students’ recovery from the pandemic and why?
From virtually every indicator of student well-being, whether it is test scores, chronic absenteeism rates or student surveys, it is clear our kids are struggling and there are disproportionately more negative experiences occurring for our Black and Latino students, English learners, foster youth and special education and low-income students. The significant revenue coming into the state has given the governor the opportunity to not only invest heavily in the Local Control Funding Formula with a proposed $3.3 billion cost of living adjustment and $500 million for special education, but also to build on last year’s budget and put forward investments in a number of critical education and well-being strategies, including continuing the rollout of transitional kindergarten ($1 billion), expanding after-school and summer programming (nearly $4.5 billion), and ensuring universal meals across the state ($596 million). If implemented effectively, these strategies have the potential to provide educational, enrichment, and health supports that are critically needed to help students engage in school, build back critical relationships and, ultimately, develop the knowledge and skills that will better prepare them for the future.
What priority should have been in the budget but wasn’t?
We think two critical priorities are missing from the governor’s budget proposal. While the budget includes some modest workforce investments, we are deeply concerned by the educator crisis that is occurring in California schools. As we lay out in one of our blog posts, “If We Want Equity in our Schools, We Need to Invest Wisely to Get It,” districts are struggling to find and hire the teachers, counselors, social workers and nurses, among others, who are a critical presence at schools, and work closely with kids. In last year’s budget, recruitment was a significant theme, with nearly $3 billion invested in a variety of strategies, but while those investments are helpful, the one-time nature of these funds and the lack of clear ongoing commitment may result in less than optimal outcomes. We also need to invest in strategies that will retain educators, especially in high-concentration schools. This could include funding several educator buyout days that allow for additional professional development and collaboration time for teachers during the summer and intersession, reducing the need for substitute teachers for these purposes. Second, the budget misses an opportunity to invest in additional equity-forward strategies, including evaluating the implementation of LCFF to consider different approaches to strengthen the funding formula and taking a long-term systemic approach to ensure that, as California schools decline in enrollment, there is planned, consistent funding to reduce the need for educator layoffs, especially in high-concentration schools. These investment strategies have the potential to provide students a stable school community, access to more caring and skilled adults, and the guarantee that services and programs will be effectively and equitably implemented and available to them now and into the future.
Samantha Tran is the senior managing director of education at Children Now, a California-based research, policy development and advocacy organization dedicated to improving children’s health, education, and overall well-being.