Distance learning is dead. Long live distance learning — or something like it.
Last week, a waiver allowing California schools to engage in distance learning expired — putting the state on track to resume full-time in-person instruction in the fall. But on Monday, state lawmakers introduced an amended budget bill that would require schools to offer independent study programs for students who don’t yet feel comfortable returning to the classroom.
The bill, which lawmakers could send to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk as early as Thursday, would beef up the state’s existing independent study program by setting higher curriculum and teacher credentialing standards, requiring at least some live instruction and mandating that schools offer devices and internet connections to students who need them. But some advocates doubt the proposal will achieve its goal of offering an educational experience equal to in-person learning.
- John Affeldt, managing attorney at Public Advocates: “It’s like fitting a square peg into a round hole. Independent study isn’t set up for this systemic delivery of classes to a group of students, it’s more for individual needs.”
The challenges of remote learning were made clear by a bill Newsom signed into law Thursday, which allows students to make up for pandemic learning loss by repeating a grade level, switching low marks to pass/no pass or taking a fifth year of high school. But even as the governor and lawmakers vowed an end to distance learning and said 99% of schools would reopen full-time in the fall, they shied away from a mandate, noting that many communities hard-hit by the virus are reluctant to send their kids back to campus. Those anxieties have likely grown as the highly contagious Delta variant becomes the dominant COVID-19 strain in California and coronavirus case rates tick back up.
Even without the independent study option, California’s schools would likely have been emptier than usual in the fall. Public school enrollment hit a 20-year low amid the pandemic as more than 160,000 students exited the system, while the number of families filing an affidavit to open a private home school skyrocketed. Those trends could pose serious financial challenges for California’s public school system, even as it prepares to rake in record funding this year.
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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 3,713,944 confirmed cases (+0.05% from previous day) and 63,141 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.
Plus: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. We’re also tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county and lawsuits against COVID-19 restrictions.
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Other stories you should know
1. Could Newsom’s accelerated recall backfire?
When Newsom signed a bill to move up the date of his own recall election, it was an indication both he and the Democrat-dominated Legislature are banking on the idea that an earlier election could help him stay in office. But there’s also a chance the Sept. 14 date could backfire: Newsom now has less time to rally Democratic voters, who appear significantly less enthused about the election than Republicans. A recent poll from UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies found a whopping 75% of Republicans are highly interested in the recall, compared to just 36% of Democrats, a discrepancy reinforced by a recent Public Policy Institute of California poll.
- Mark Baldassare, CEO of the Public Policy Institute of California: “If the governor’s supporters remain less engaged in the upcoming election, then the recall could end up being closer than the polls to date have indicated.”
- Steve Smith, a leader of the California Labor Federation, which is planning to send thousands of members to canvas for Newsom: “In every group (of undecided union members), people said, ‘I don’t know if (voting in the recall) is that important. He’s probably going to win anyways.’ People are completely tuned out.”
2. EDD work spills over to lawmakers
Months after California’s unemployment agency expanded its call center hours and announced plans to hire nearly 1,000 new employees, people are still having such a hard time getting through the Employment Development Department’s jammed phone lines that state assemblymembers were recently given the green light to hire two staffers each to handle EDD problems, the Sacramento Bee reports. It’s the latest sign that conditions are largely not improving at the beleaguered agency, which answered only 8% of the more than 3 million calls it received for the week ending June 26 — during which each person called an average of 11.4 times to get through. And while EDD’s backlog of unresolved claims shrunk last week, more than 1.1 million remain in limbo.
- Assemblymember David Chiu, a San Francisco Democrat, in May: “My office has been receiving countless calls from desperate constituents, many of whom are in tears, some of whom are on the brink of homelessness and even some of who have threatened suicide.”
Meanwhile, the department is preparing to take on yet another task: determining whether the estimated 350,000 Californians who are self-employed but also work salaried jobs part-time qualify for an extra $100 weekly benefit.
3. Animal crossings coming to California
Picture this: You’re whizzing down Highway 101 while mountain lions, deer, rabbits, lizards and other animals meander on paths 17 feet above your head. This seemingly fantastical vision recently got a step closer to reality when Newsom signed a budget that includes $7 million to help build the Liberty Canyon Wildlife Crossing, a bridge that would allow animals to safely cross the 10-lane freeway that cuts through the Santa Monica Mountains and roars with 300,000 cars each day, CalMatters’ Marissa Garcia reports. The budget includes another $54.5 million for similar projects across the state, though many of them have yet to be identified. The Liberty Canyon crossing illustrates both the challenges and promise of such endeavors: It’s facing financial and architectural hurdles, but is also likely California’s best shot of bringing an isolated, inbred population of mountain lions back from near-certain extinction.
- Tiffany Yap, senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity in San Francisco: “What they need is genetic connectivity, and so Liberty Canyon will provide more opportunities for outside mountain lions to come in and really give that gene pool a boost and diversity.”
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July 13: How can California support its small businesses as they recover from a recession and global pandemic? Join a CalMatters and Milken Institute virtual conversation with leading policymakers, including Small Business Administration Administrator Isabel Casillas Guzman. Register here.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The state budget makes clear that Newsom and lawmakers favor the left in a culture war over how to handle crime.
Protecting our troops: California must pass legislation to make it clear that sexual harassment is punishable within its military ranks, write Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis and state Sen. Susan Eggman, a Stockton Democrat.
Gun shows don’t belong on state fairgrounds: It is morally reprehensible for California to continue to promote gun violence by allowing the sale of guns and ammunition on taxpayer-owned property, argues state Sen. Dave Min, an Irvine Democrat.
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Other things worth your time
Former Fontana city manager made nearly $1 million without working a day in 2020. // Daily News
Lobbyist seeks $2M fee for work on behalf of insurer that donated to state’s insurance regulator. // San Diego Union-Tribune
Unprecedented lobbying effort scores big win for California public health. // California Healthline
Why is a San Diego teachers union trying to get rid of half a school board? // San Diego Union-Tribune
Bipartisan resolution would study California’s antitrust laws. // Paso Robles Daily News
Federal probe of American Indian boarding schools reflects dark chapter in U.S., California history. // San Bernardino Sun
Governor appoints first Indigenous woman to commission advocating for women and girls. // San Diego Union-Tribune
Firefighters continue to battle blazes across California. // Los Angeles Times
Gavin Newsom oversold California’s fire prevention efforts. A journalist uncovered the truth. // The Guardian
Why did FEMA reject 95% of aid applicants during California’s last wildfire disaster? // CapRadio
California is restoring electric car rebates, but some environmentalists aren’t happy. // San Francisco Chronicle
Hemp farmers get the hint they’re not welcome in Contra Costa. // Mercury News
Drought: The end of California’s groundwater free-for-all. // Mercury News
A dry California creek bed looked like a wildfire risk. Then the beavers went to work. // Sacramento Bee
Joy, anxiety as third wolf pack enters California. // SFGATE
See you tomorrow.
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