Economic Stimulus and Schools – What Does It Mean For California?
In December 2020, Congress approved a $900 billion Covid relief package that includes almost $82 billion for education. Of this amount, $54 billion was for K-12 education, with $22 billion for higher education and $4 billion for governments to spend at their discretion. The bill also included $7 billion to expand broadband access, $10 billion for childcare, and continued funding for school meal programs. Various educators and advocacy groups expressed disappointment with the amount allocated since it fell far short of the $2.2 trillion some have estimated as necessary for education.
The majority of the money contained in the COVID Relief Act will go directly to local educational agencies. The U.S. Department of Education released information suggesting California will receive $6.7 billion COVID Relief Act money, with $6 billion to be sent to local governments.
These funds are in addition to, and about four times greater than, the funds authorized by the CARES Act passed by Congress in the Spring of 2020. Information about California’s receipt of funds and use of money can be partially tracked through a website set up under the prior U.S. Secretary of Education’s direction at the U.S. Department of Education.
President Biden has requested an additional $175 billion to get schools reopened. Across the board, educators agree that reopening schools and meeting student needs will cost a lot, and the funds available are not sufficient.
STATE OF AFFAIRS IN CALIFORNIA
On December 30, 2020, Governor Newsom announced his Safe Schools Plan. It appears to be a Plan designed to find a way to utilize the funds coming into California to address educational needs. There has been criticism of the Plan from educators across the state, and everything involved in the Plan requires attention through the state budget process.
How the money coming into the state is ultimately distributed, and the “rules” of its use will largely depend on the state budget process outcome.
STATE OF AFFAIRS IN LOCAL DISTRICTS
While all of this is going on at the federal and state level, the needs of students at the local level, particularly the needs of students with disabilities, are being largely ignored by many districts. While some local school districts have stepped up and been creative and innovative in using those resources to enable some in-person learning and needed assessments to take place, others have not. The Los Angeles Unified School District and the United Teachers Los Angeles have fought vigorously to avoid conducting assessments for special education students. Nor have they developed any creative means of providing necessary and crucial in-person supports for such students. It continues to do so even with considerable funding that would enable it to follow other local districts’ steps in doing so.
A Petition for Extraordinary Relief filed by the Alliance for Children’s Rights and the Learning Rights, along with attorneys at Vanaman German, organizations in the California Supreme Court was aggressively challenged by the Los Angeles Unified School District. In a one-sentence denial of relief, the Court denied the request for extraordinary relief without issuing any decision as to the underlying legal claims. Despite knowing that the failure to assess students with special education needs is leading to unconscionable delays, and despite knowing that students who require specialized services are suffering at home without such services, the leadership of Los Angeles Unified School District continues to ignore the needs of such students and refuses to even meet with, or discuss, how the needs of such students could be met even in the face of the pandemic. Instead, according to press releases, it continues to complain of a lack of money and is concerned about its relationship with United Teachers of Los Angeles.
For the thousands of LAUSD students with special needs, the California Supreme Court’s one-sentence denial of extraordinary relief was a profound disappointment. These students, who are not being assessed and who need specialized services, have gone without meaningful access to education since March 2020. Under the current leadership of Los Angeles Unified School District, they will now likely lose the entire 2020-21 school year. We can only hope that if sufficient parents begin to speak up, to be heard, to advocate, the Los Angeles Unified School District can be encouraged to stop abandoning students who often have no voice and have experienced such extraordinary learning loss during this pandemic.
Students with disabilities continue to have all rights and protections provided by federal and state law. Parents can, and should, continue to advocate for students at every level possible, including through the use of the due process system. Relief for individual students remains possible and must be pursued at every possible level as we seek to lessen, to the extent possible, the horrendous impact the pandemic is having for such students.
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