Will billions close California’s educational equity gaps?
Money talks — but actions speak louder than dollar bills.
That’s the double-edged sword facing California as it pours an unprecedented amount of funding into a public school system grappling with declining enrollment, persistent shortages of educators and substitute teachers, and educational achievement gaps that only widened during the pandemic.
And it was the unspoken backdrop to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s much-publicized trip last week to Washington, D.C., where he accepted an award recognizing California’s approach to public education, including its “historic financial investments to ensure educational equity.”
“The education budget in California was $170 billion” last year, Newsom said at the start of his acceptance speech. “I think it’s larger than the entire budgets of all but two states in the country. I say that not to impress you, but to impress upon you that what we do has consequences.”
The challenge now facing California leaders: translating that massive investment into effective policies and measurable results.
Recently released, first-of-its-kind state data underscores just how far there is to go: About 17% of public school classes were taught by teachers with less than full credentials in the 2020-21 school year, according to figures published in late June by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond.
In eight of California’s 10 largest school districts, underqualified teachers were more likely to teach classes at schools with the highest percentages of low-income students than at schools with the lowest percentages of low-income students, according to an analysis from CalMatters’ Joe Hong and Erica Yee.
- Los Angeles Unified had the largest disparity among non-charter schools: The rate of fully credentialed teachers was 22 percentage points higher at schools serving more affluent families than at schools serving more low-income students, according to the CalMatters analysis.
- Saroja Warner of the research nonprofit WestEd: “It’s sort of this perfect storm in high-poverty communities. Teachers are another thing they don’t have access to.”
- Kai Mathews of UCLA’s Center for the Transformation of Schools: “There are counties where there isn’t a teacher preparation program in a 50-mile radius. … It’s almost impossible to get teachers to go to these areas.”
One of the ways California is seeking to improve educational outcomes in high-poverty areas: A whopping $4.1 billion investment over five years to create new and further develop existing “community schools,” which offer wraparound services such as mental health care, pediatric appointments and other social programs to students and their families.
- Deanna Niebuhr, California policy director for the Opportunity Institute and who has worked to develop community schools, told the Los Angeles Times: “It’s an important moment, and a serious moment, with this amount of money. It’s not clear that this will work. But we believe it’s our best chance for real change in education.”
But it may not be easy to track the relationship between spending and program effectiveness. Some California school districts have refused to disclose how they’ve spent massive sums of COVID stimulus money, a CalMatters investigation found. Statewide, schools received $33.5 billion in one-time state and federal funds — yet no centralized state or federal database exists to show how they spent the money.
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 9,752,509 confirmed cases (+0.8% from previous day) and 92,292 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to state data now updated just twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
Other Stories You Should Know
1 State sounds alarm on monkeypox
As monkeypox cases proliferate in California and across the country, officials are calling for a ramped-up state response — even as they acknowledge that most of the control lies in the hands of the federal government. On Wednesday, the California Department of Public Health unveiled a letter to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimating that it needs at least 600,000 to 800,000 additional doses of the monkeypox vaccine for the highest-risk populations: gay and bisexual men and transgender and nonbinary people with two or more sexual partners. California has so far received 19,500 doses and recently placed an order for another 25,000, state public health officials said last week.
Also Wednesday, 12 state lawmakers called on California to make an emergency budget appropriation to help counties expand their monkeypox vaccination, testing, treatment, education and outreach efforts, while slamming the “federal public health failure” to procure adequate vaccines. “In San Francisco, for example, people have been waiting in lines for as long as 9 hours in the hope of getting a vaccine,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Newsom, Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon. “We’ve seen horror stories of people with symptoms who have been unable to access testing or have not been able to obtain results for weeks.”
Meanwhile, Rendon asked U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to declare a federal public health emergency and make more monkeypox vaccine doses available to the states.
- Rendon said during a press conference with LGBTQ+ leaders and advocacy groups: “The good news about monkeypox, if there is any at all, is that it is a familiar disease. We have tests and we have vaccines. Sadly, despite two years of experience with COVID, our response has been maddeningly slow.”
2 CalPERS posts first loss since Great Recession
CalPERS may have dodged legislation that would have forced it to divest from America’s largest oil and gas companies, Russia and Belarus, but it couldn’t dodge the soaring inflation and interest rates, market volatility and geopolitical instability hitting everyone’s pocketbooks. The nation’s largest public pension fund — which provides pensions for about 2.1 million state and local government employees, retirees and other beneficiaries — posted a $29 billion loss for the fiscal year ending June 30, according to figures released Wednesday. The preliminary 6.1% loss on investments — almost the exact opposite of the system’s goal of a 6.8% gain — marks CalPERS’ first annual loss since the Great Recession in 2009, and puts state and local governments on the hook for making up for the shortfall.
During the course of the Great Recession, CalPERS went from having 101% of what it needed to cover its long-term debts to just 61% — and has never again reached fully funded levels, according to the Sacramento Bee. As of Monday, the fund could afford to pay off just 72% of its long-term obligations.
- CalPERS CEO Marcie Frost: “We’ve done a lot of work in recent years to plan and prepare for difficult conditions. Despite the market conditions and their impact on our returns, we’re focused on long-term performance and our members can be confident that their retirement is safe and secure.”
3 For relief programs, timing is everything
Which would you choose: free money you get to keep, or money you need to pay back with interest? That was the easy decision facing some pandemic-affected small businesses when California rolled out two financial assistance programs around the same time in late 2020, according to a recent report from the Little Hoover Commission, an independent state oversight agency. In late November of that year, Newsom unveiled a small business loan program. Then, about a week later, he announced the state would also distribute grants to small businesses impacted by the pandemic. CalMatters’ Grace Gedye explores the repercussions of that timing — and why San Francisco has received 17% of loan funds so far, despite being home to just 2% of Californians.
Speaking of free money: A White House official exclusively shared with CalMatters that Vice President Kamala Harris is set today to ask Newsom to help accelerate Californians’ enrollment in the federal Affordable Connectivity Program, which helps reduce eligible households’ internet service costs by as much as $30 per month, or $75 per month on tribal lands. About 1.6 million California households have enrolled in the program since it launched in May, the most of any state; an estimated 5.65 million Californians are eligible.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California’s troubled bullet train project won a reprieve with a political deal to free up $4.2 billion in bond money — but its fate still faces years of uncertainty.
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Newsom demands that UCLA publicly explain deal to leave the Pac-12. // Los Angeles Times
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Why do so many people fail the California DMV written exam? // Sacramento Bee
Ruling will change California DMV rules on license suspensions after DUIs. // San Francisco Chronicle
New pathway to a diploma opens doors for Californians with disabilities. // EdSource
Many not claiming California tax credits for foster youth. // Los Angeles Times
Turpins sue over claims of abuse in Riverside County foster care. // Los Angeles Times
California could soon add a new fee to wine and liquor bottles. // San Francisco Chronicle
Watergate-era financial disclosures aren’t enough to keep local pols honest, experts say. // San Francisco Standard
Californian sentenced for $27 million unemployment fraud scheme. // Associated Press
Top S.F. official calls for resignation of school board member Ann Hsu after racist comment. // San Francisco Chronicle
A California desert town has long been an abortion refuge for Arizona and Mexico. Now it’s overwhelmed. // Los Angeles Times
Second town in neighboring Tulare County goes dry. // Bakersfield Californian
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California forests are vanishing as wildfires worsen. // Los Angeles Times
California fire season is quiet so far, resembles a ‘normal summer.’ // San Francisco Chronicle
This 500-year-old tree in California has a story to tell. // New York Times