In summary

Nearly 90% of students at my school are identified as economically disadvantaged, and AB 1835 is critical for our students.

By Jessie Welcomer, Special to CalMatters

Jessie Welcomer is a 3rd grade teacher at Montalvin Manor K-8, a Title I public school in San Pablo, jessiemwelcomer@gmail.com. She is a 2019-2020 Teach Plus California Policy Fellow. She wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

An Assembly bill that would close a loophole and ensure funds intended for disadvantaged students unanimously passed the Education Committee last month, but it drew significant opposition.

While that outcome was encouraging, I’m still concerned.

Assembly Bill 1835, introduced by Democratic Assemblymembers Shirley Weber of San Diego and Sharon Quirk-Silva of Fullerton, now heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee where legislators will debate its price tag. Assuming legislators recognize that the cost of not passing this bill is just too high, it will then move on to be heard by the full Assembly.

This legislation is critical for my school and our students. Nearly 90% of students at my school are identified as economically disadvantaged, and almost half are English Learners.  After two months of remote instruction with them, I am certain that distance learning is exacerbating already-pressing inequities.

Like teachers and staff across the country, we’re rising to the occasion. I still get to see my students’ faces light up during online learning, and the plethora of digital resources and training has helped me devise daily independent learning for my class. 

Our Dean of Students is leading daily remote physical education classes, our school organized a virtual spirit week, and staff have been diligently calling families who have not yet engaged in distance learning to better understand barriers and offer support.

Even so, it is naive to think that this period of distance learning won’t have a significant toll on students’ learning and wellbeing. And it is naive to think that these hardships won’t fall disproportionately on the highest-need students.

On top of what costs the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to state and local budgets, my school district, along with many other districts across California, already had tough choices to make. In February, the most pressing matter in my district was the nearly $48 million projected budget deficit that will eliminate educator and staff positions and increase class sizes, among other impacts. While health-related concerns and worries about the digital divide have understandably taken precedent, these economic issues cannot be ignored, especially as we look toward next year.

Many teachers, like me, had hoped that the Local Control Funding Formula would help with our chronic funding struggles. By directing more funds toward students who need them most, focusing on equity and creating local planning processes, the Local Control Funding Formula would help ensure schools like mine have what they need. And yet, here we are again weighing incredibly painful budget cuts.

In this time more than ever, we must prioritize funding for the highest-need students, who will disproportionately be impacted by this period of school closures. While the Local Control Funding Formula gives local education agencies supplemental and concentration grants specifically to serve foster youth, English Learners and students from low-income backgrounds, a persistent lack of data makes it difficult to determine which funding measures are having the biggest impact.

We must have a way to track grant spending to assess the impact of funds. We also must ensure that the grant money intended for these groups of students actually reaches them. AB 1835 seeks to close a loophole identified by the state auditor in her report, thus ensuring that supplemental and concentration grants go to serve the students they were intended for. Now, more than ever, that follow-through is critical.

Our classes have always been filled with students at different levels, with different needs. And no matter how far behind students are when schools reopen, teachers will meet them where they are and grow from there, as we have always done. Yet the state has a responsibility to do what it can to ensure that the highest-need students, who already will be disproportionately impacted by school closures, are not further disadvantaged when schools reopen.

I urge the Legislature to pass AB 1835 so that my students have access to the services they need and deserve. And I encourage Gov. Gavin Newsom to include in the state budget measures for increasing fiscal transparency and oversight to help ensure disadvantaged students aren’t disproportionately impacted by the tough decisions that lay ahead.

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Jessie Welcomer is a 3rd grade teacher at Montalvin Manor K-8, a Title I public school in San Pablo, jessiemwelcomer@gmail.com. She is a 2019-2020 Teach Plus California Policy Fellow. She wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

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