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Schools reopening: Newsom has stopped leading in favor of politics
Dennis Wyatt RGB
Dennis Wyatt

California public schools by Aug. 1 should be in a position to return to five days of full-day in-person instruction.

The science is clear. The Centers for Disease Control confirms it. And the state of California along with the $1.9 trillion federal COVID relief bill has put up enough money to make it happen.

School districts between the state and federal governments will have received millions to make in-person learning safe.

So why is California dead last in terms of the percentage of kids back in an actual classroom five days a week being taught by someone who also is in the classroom and not doing so by Zoom?

The answer is simple. Sacramento lacks political will.

While it is true there are 1,050 school districts statewide that are all “independent,” that does provide quite tell the entire story.

The state controls roughly 90 percent of the funding for day-to-day instruction. Property taxes are tallied against what the state determines K-12 schools should get. If local property taxes exceed the formula, the state reduces the money it sends them proportionately. And if local property taxes come up short, the state ups its share to backfill it. That essentially puts the state in control.

Then there is an alphabet of specific program funding the state divvies out.

And if that is not enough to convince you the state has a strange definition of “independent,” consider this: The state has no problem mandating things on “independent” school districts such as high school start times.

We are told by Gov. Gavin Newsom “mandates are often not looked upon as favorably as you would like to think. That said, we anticipate and expect our kids back safely in in-person instruction this fall, and you’re be hearing more about that.”

Newsom made those remarks recently at an elementary school in Santa Rosa that resumed in-person learning last week.

Mandates indeed aren’t looked upon favorably. He of all people should know that between his mandated lockdowns and mask wearing.

Newsom, who continues to refuse to mandate school reopening to the degree they were prior to the pandemic conveniently forgets one major point. Fourteen months ago he mandated public schools close. The governor’s mandate had 100 percent compliance.

Was everybody happy with it? No. Newsom did it anyway because, in his own words, “it (was) the right thing to do” and “the science supports it.” The governor can now certainly say the same things about reopening schools back to where they were at on March 1, 2020.

The governor is fooling no one.

If he has the broad powers to close down virtually California’s entire private sector economy that the state doesn’t financially support in a declared emergency he certainly has the ability to order the “reopening” of public schools.

Make no doubt about it. This is an emergency situation. No one debates that there is learning loss across the board. The data backs it up whether it is those that struggle to attain grade level or those seeking challenges beyond grade level. The learning loss is likely to inflict long-term damage on countless students in terms of how effective their education is if they can’t successfully master basics when in the primary grades or if they lose opportunities for robust access to what being in school offers in the upper grades.

Good luck trying to find someone that says distance learning or hybrid learning is as effective as 100 percent in-person learning.

The real problem – which Newsom doesn’t want to admit to in order to avoid riling an ally when you are facing a recall election – is the political clout of California’s teachers unions.

No one should take the health of educators and school support staff lightly. However, the CDC has provided a clear path forward that certainly $21.9 billion – the overall amount California schools are receiving from the state and federal governments to make in-person learning work during the pandemic – can address those concerns.

Educators also received a top priority for the COVID-19 vaccines.

Newsom is at odds with many in his own party in Sacramento as there is no consensus in the California Legislature to mandate schools reopening.

That in itself is a tad surprising given how the Legislature has no issue “mandating” various requirements on “independent” school districts.

Perhaps the question should be asked of Newsom and the Legislature whether they should try to claw back some of the $6.6 billion they doled out to schools earlier this year for in-person instruction and expand learning opportunities if schools aren’t 100 percent reopened when August reopens. The same question could be asked of Biden and Congress when it comes to the $15.3 billion they sent to California schools for the same purpose.

It is clear school districts negotiate individually with teacher and classified bargaining groups. It is clear there is still a legitimate ongoing concern about COVID-19. It is also clear that taxpayers and parents should have their reasonable expectation that children are educated safely and effectively.

Given the technology available and the money sent to districts to buy and implement it, schools can be made reasonably safe for in-person learning.

If the governor doesn’t believe that is the case, then his current position that he doesn’t plan to mandate school reopening is disingenuous or else he is doing something that is not becoming of a leader – waffling on a major issue that impacts a massive segment of California that could cause damage for years to come.

Recalling the governor doesn’t make sense on a lot of levels.

Newsom, however, does himself no favors by trying to placate both sides.

There comes a point when a real leader has to make the tough call and lead.

Newsom did just that 14 months ago when he became the first governor nationwide to order a statewide lockdown based on the science. He proved in the ensuing months his worth as a leader by making adjustments when science demanded it.

Now that the science supports school reopening – not to mention the money the state and federal governments have sent to schools – Newsom seems more concerned about politics than leading.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or 209 Multimedia Corporation.