School districts cash in on in-person instruction

Reggie Ellis

Most districts return grades 7-12 to campus before April 1 deadline to receive 100% of state incentive for reopening

TULARE COUNTY — With spring break for most local students this week, last Friday may have been the last chance for districts to begin in-person instruction before losing funding from the state.

Assembly Bill 86 for COVID-19 relief and school reopening was signed by the governor on March 5.

The bill allocated $6.5 billion to the Superintendent of public instruction, $4.5 billion of which was allotted for school districts, county offices of education, charter schools and state special schools for the blind, deaf and hard of hearing.

The bill requires districts return to school by tomorrow, April 1, to obtain 100% of their share of $2 billion in reopening funding. In-person instruction (IPE) grants can be used for purposes associated with in-person instruction including COVID-19 testing, cleaning and disinfection, personal protective equipment, ventilation, salaries, and social and mental health support services. Districts using hybrid schedules will be required to demonstrate they’re offering in-person instruction “to the greatest extent possible.” For every day reopening in-person instruction (IPI) is delayed, the district will be docked 1% of its IPI funding. If districts do not reopen by May 15, they forfeit all of their IPI funding. Since Tulare County has entered the red tier, in-person instruction must be offered to all elementary grades and at least one middle or high school grade.

“As more school districts across California announce plans to bring students back into classrooms, we at the CDE are providing the technical support our schools need to access resources in a timely way so educators can focus on providing a safe return to in-person learning, accelerate learning, and begin recovering,” State Superintendent Tony Thurmond said in a released statement on March 19.

Most unified districts returned earlier this month including Tulare County’s smallest unified district, Alpaugh, and its largest, Visalia. Porterville was the most recent unfied school district to return grades 7-12 to campus on Monday, March 29, as the district observed spring break two weeks earlier. Alpaugh Unified is estimated to receive $134,000 in IPI funding and Visalia is estimated to receive more than $9 million, with the other unified school district falling in between. Lindsay and Dinuba unified could not be reached for comment. Cutler-Orosi Joint Unified said it does not yet have a target date to return grades 7-12. Farmersville Unified would have lost about $47,000 by delaying its opening until April 6 and Woodlake Unified would have lost $55,000 by the time it returns on April 8, according to the allocations posted on the California Department of Education’s web site earlier this month, if not for a small disclaimer in the law that does not count non-instructional days, such as spring break, against the district.

While some of the money is tied to the April 1 and May 15 deadline, most of $6 billion in state funding is for expanded learning opportunities (ELO), such as summer school, tutoring, mental health and social emotional support. The bill authorizes districts to continue distance learning and allows ELO monies to be spent “to increase or improve services for pupils participating in distance learning.”

ELO funding ranges from $25,000 for Sequoia Union Elementary to just under $20.5 million for Visalia Unified, which is scheduled to present a report on the funding to the school board at its April 13 meeting.

Schools must also begin submitting a form to the CDPH twice per month reporting the number of students learning in-person full-time, in hybrid model of both online and in-person or in full distance learning. Districts will have to adopt and submit a plan to the state for the new funding.

Districts will receive 50 percent of their estimated allocation for both the IPI and ELO Grants in May with the other half, any reduction or forfeiture, coming in August. All of the funds must be spent by Aug. 31, 2022.

CDE is developing a list of Frequently Asked Questions that will be posted to its web site in the near future. Questions may be directed to [email protected] and [email protected]

-This article was updated at 1:10 p.m. PST on Wednesday, March 31.

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