Proposed Oakland school closures have reinvigorated debates over learning loss and educational inequities widened by the pandemic.
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California education leaders are confronting an urgent challenge: helping schools — and students — bounce back from a pandemic that continues to exact a disproportionate toll on communities of color and widen longstanding learning and achievement gaps.
A critical test could come Tuesday, when the Oakland Unified School District Board of Education is set to vote on a controversial proposal to close or merge more than a dozen schools in the next two years to help shrink a budget deficit exacerbated by declining enrollment. Half of the eight campuses slated for closure have the district’s highest percentages of Black student enrollment, according to Oaklandside.
Oakland City Council leaders on Thursday called on Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Legislature to help stave off the closures by using California’s budget surplus to forgive the district’s state debts and by amending state law to fund schools based on enrollment rather than average daily attendance.
Also demanding action from Newsom: Moses Omalade and Andre San-Chez, two Westlake Middle School teachers who have been on a hunger strike since last Tuesday to protest the closures.
- Omalade: “We are very adamant that this is until death. The hunger strike for me was, you’re going to watch the bodies erode, you’re going to watch us struggle.”
Tensions are also rising in San Francisco, where voters have until Feb. 15 to cast their ballots in a recall election that could oust three school board members from office. Many of the city’s top Democrats are backing the recall, including Mayor London Breed, who in October 2020 slammed the school board for prioritizing renaming campuses tied to historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln rather than reopening them.
- Breed: “The fact that our kids aren’t in school is what’s driving inequity in our city. Not the name of a school.”
- But recall opponents also cite equity to make their case. United Educators of San Francisco President Cassondra Curiel noted in a Friday San Francisco Chronicle column that if the recall succeeds, Breed will get to appoint three replacements to the seven-member school board. But “a 2013 study by the Economic Policy Institute on three cities (with school boards) that were under mayor control — Washington, D.C., New York and Chicago — found that academic gains were seen only by white and high-income students,” Curiel wrote.
Still, for many San Franciscans, the pandemic exposed the gap between the district’s pledge of educational equity and reality.
- With the district facing a $125 million budget shortfall, experts warn young teachers of color will likely be the first to see potential pink slips.
- And then there was the stunning case highlighted in a Sunday report from San Francisco Chronicle columnist Heather Knight: A public middle school issued report cards with A’s and “pass” grades to sixth-grader Miriam Nelson, who had never set foot on campus. Her mother, Lila, had disenrolled her from the district after fifth grade to attend in-person parochial school.
Lila Nelson: San Francisco district officials say they “care so much about the education of Black students and care about the wellness of Black families, but … you can’t possibly be. You’re not connected to my family.”
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Other stories you should know
1. Other education/youth news
Here are three other key updates in the education and youth space:
- Republican state lawmakers on Friday unveiled “The California Parents’ Bill of Rights Act,” which would “establish inalienable rights for parents in California when it comes to the education and well-being of their children.” The move came the same day Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill that would allow school administrators to verify students’ COVID-19 vaccination status using the state’s confidential vaccine database. The proposal would also require health care providers to submit all student immunization records to the database along with race and ethnicity data, which lawmakers said would help reveal if certain groups need more help accessing vaccines.
- Also Friday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers unveiled a proposal that would close a loophole in state law by requiring school districts to publicly report employee salaries. This information “would allow the public to see how much districts are spending on administrators compared to how much of the budget reaches the classroom,” said state Sen. Steve Glazer, a Walnut Creek Democrat and one of the bill’s authors.
- And, in the latest example of suspicious COVID-19 testing operations popping up around the state, an “imposter posing as a medical professional” entered Los Angeles’ juvenile hall, took COVID swabs from youths and collected their names and Social Security numbers, according to an internal email from the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s office obtained by LAist.
2. Kaiser gets special Medi-Cal deal
The Newsom administration and Kaiser Permanente have hammered out a deal behind closed doors that would allow the health care giant to grow its Medi-Cal enrollment by 25% while limiting coverage to certain groups of people — a move that other health insurance plans say could strip them of hundreds of thousands of members, cost them millions of dollars and leave them with the sickest and most expensive patients, CalMatters’ Ana Ibarra reports.
- The contract — which has to be approved by state lawmakers and federal officials and would go into effect in 2024 — allows Kaiser to skip a bidding process that starts Wednesday and is required for commercial insurers to participate in Medi-Cal, the state’s health insurance program for the poor.
- Critics say the deal could complicate California’s plan to dramatically overhaul Medi-Cal by providing vulnerable populations with social services such as home-delivered meals and mold removal.
- Kaiser, which also played a special role in California’s vaccine distribution system, is a major Newsom donor: The company gave $35.5 million in charitable donations on Newsom’s behalf in 2020, the largest amount that year.
“Kaiser Permanente is a good system, and I’m not saying this is a bad idea, but there are a lot of things here we have to understand,” state Sen. Richard Pan, a Sacramento Democrat who leads the Senate Health Committee, told Ana.
3. California college updates
A new California program to pay low-income college students up to $10,000 for volunteer work is drawing national attention — but less than half of the budgeted money is going to actual student aid, raising questions about the logic of earmarking most of the funding for hiring and administrative costs when there’s no guarantee the program will continue past 2024, CalMatters’ Mikhail Zinshteyn reports.
- Robert Shireman, a higher-education director at the nonprofit Century Foundation: “I would have plowed the money directly into financial aid based on need and not a new temporary service program.”
Also roiling the higher-education world, Mikhail reports: fallout from a startling Thursday USA Today investigation into claims that California State University Chancellor Joseph Castro mishandled sexual assault allegations against a former colleague in his prior role as president of Fresno State. The complaints against Frank Lamas began soon after Castro hired him to lead Fresno State student services and spanned Lamas’ six years on the job. On Friday:
- Lillian Kimbell, chairperson of the Cal State Board of Trustees, said she plans to ask the board “in the coming days” to authorize an “independent investigation” into Castro’s handling of the assault claims. Also calling on the board to launch an investigation: The Cal State Faculty Association, which represents 29,000 employees across the system.
- State Sen. Connie Leyva, a Chino Democrat who leads the Senate’s education committee, called for an outside investigation — and said Castro should “immediately resign” if USA Today’s findings “are proven to be accurate.” Assemblymember Jose Medina, a Riverside Democrat who leads the Assembly’s higher education committee, also asked for an investigation but stopped short of demanding Castro’s resignation.
- Castro issued an open letter to students and staff, writing in part that “while I followed CSU policy and took the steps to ensure this individual could never work on a CSU campus, I recognize that certain aspects of the process should have been handled better.”
- And on Saturday, about 100 Fresno State students and community members held a protest calling on Castro to resign.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The “true believers” that philosopher Eric Hoffer defined seven decades ago threaten to undermine civic and political life.
Online gambling measure hurts Indian tribes: Voters should support in-person, regulated sports wagering at Indian casinos — and block out-of-state gambling corporations from turning virtually every phone, tablet and laptop in California into a gambling device, argue Raymond Welch, chairman of the Barona Band of Mission Indians in San Diego County, and Greg Sarris, tribal chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria in Sonoma County.
Medical malpractice ballot measure benefits lawyers: It would dramatically impact the cost and delivery of health care in California while allowing a few to make millions more from personal injury lawsuits, argues Kerry Hydash, president and CEO of the Family Healthcare Network.
Other things worth your time
Gavin Newsom: Garbage man. // San Francisco Chronicle
Xavier Becerra, HHS secretary, has been a background player for much of his tenure. He says that’s about to change. // CNN
Bonta says Woodside is using cougars to skirt housing law. // Los Angeles Times
SF planned to compel more people into drug and mental health treatment. So far, only two have been helped. // San Francisco Chronicle
Lawmakers, clergy question legality of Mark Ridley-Thomas suspension. // Los Angeles Times
One hang-up in push for recall reform: the fear of a lieutenant governor-led coup. // San Francisco Chronicle
Moderate Common Sense Party hopes to get on 2022 ballot in California. // Orange County Register
California Legislature urged to take control over judicial branch spending. // Courthouse News
Clovis Unified school employees form district’s first-ever union for certified educators. // Fresno Bee
Key engineering firm ordered to stop work for BART during conflict of interest review. // Los Angeles Times
More than half of California’s bridges are not in good shape. // Mercury News
SF affordable housing projects receive $200 million from California’s accelerator fund. // San Francisco Chronicle
As new Bay Area housing applications grow, so does rift between suburbs, developers. // Mercury News
Fiji homicides could get mom and kids evicted in California. // Sacramento Bee
Long-secret email warned San Jose State president about sex abuse claims. // Mercury News
Federal women’s prison in California fostered culture of abuse. // Associated Press
Lawsuit accuses UC Berkeley, City Council of ‘secret’ settlement. // Mercury News
Free cosmetic surgery offered in massive California health fraud scheme. // Associated Press
Former CA EDD employee gets 63 months in prison for fraud. // Sacramento Bee
California gas utility fined $10 million for ratepayer money misuse. // Associated Press
Can a $22 million Super Bowl ad campaign bring pandemic-weary tourists back to California? // San Francisco Chronicle
After 6,000 miles at sea, elephant seal meets up with researchers at Bay Area beach to share her data. // San Francisco Chronicle
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