California STEM Network News – February 2021

Governor and Legislature Negotiate Plans and Funding for School Campus Re-Opening and Summer/Extended Learning Opportunities

The deadline for passing early action legislation to approve Governor Newsom’s proposed Safe Schools for All plan, which included a total of $2 billion to cover the costs of returning to in-person instruction, has come and gone. His proposal, which quickly came under fire from legislators on both sides of the aisle in early budget hearings, would have provided grants to local education agencies (LEAs) to cover costs such as COVID-19 tests, personal protective equipment (PPE), and more. The proposal was criticized for its timeline, which called for two application periods with deadlines of February 1 and March 1, that the requirements outlined in proposal were too burdensome, and concerns that wealthier districts were more likely to benefit, thereby exacerbating inequity in education. Meanwhile, the Legislature released its own proposal, in the form of AB 10, for how to return students to in-person schooling within two weeks of state or local health orders allowing for the opening of school campuses. At this time, the Administration and the Legislature are in negotiations on this topic. Children Now has been working actively behind the scenes to ensure that campuses are opened safely, educators continue to be prioritized for vaccination, and that the needs of English Learners, students in foster care, homeless youth, disengaged students, struggling students, and others who have been most negatively impacted by the pandemic are prioritized in re-opening plans.

The Governor’s January budget proposal also included more than $4 billion in funding for summer and extended learning opportunities. Similarly, the Legislature also has a related proposal in the form of AB 104. A reconciliation in the form of negotiations between the Legislature and the Administration is also underway. As we work with coalition partners to advocate for kids, Children Now has prioritized the following elements of AB 104 to be included into the funding plans for summer and extended learning opportunities through the 2021/2022 school year and beyond:

  • Equity-Driven Investments. Funding for expanded learning programs should be allocated on the basis of the LEA’s proportion of supplemental and concentration funds statewide.
  • Ensure Enrichment, Rigor and Social Emotional Supports. Expanded learning program should ensure a truly restorative return to school for students.
  • Provide In-Person Support & Empower Parents/Guardians. Offer summer and expanded learning programs in-person as an option as soon as can be safely done. To make this possible, require that school facilities be made available for these programs beginning this summer.
  • Ensure Partnerships and Stakeholder Engagement. This investment should be aligned with and leverage our existing expanded learning system and system of support that already serves half a million students every year and offers a great deal of infrastructure, experience and knowledge upon which to build. In addition, any expanded learning program should require the engagement of local community partners (e.g., community-based non-profits) in planning and operation of these programs and reimburse them sufficiently so that staff can be paid a living wage and offered benefits.
  • Multi-Year Investment. This investment should not be limited to the summer of 2021 and the 2021/2022 school year but should include expanded learning opportunities over multiple school years.


Governor Proposes Critical Investments to Support Teachers

In his 2021-22 proposed state budget plan released January 8, Governor Newsom prioritized critical investments in existing programs and structures to support teacher preparation, recruitment, retention and professional learning. Not unlike the rest of the nation, California’s teacher workforce is under an enormous amount of pressure due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting campus closures. The fallout has been staff layoffs, challenges with recruitment and placement, increased retirements and a significant need for professional learning. In response, the Governor put forward a K-12 spending plan that would provide in excess of $540 million to train existing teachers and recruit and prepare new candidates for the profession. Programs like the Educator Effectiveness Block Grant, California Subject Matter Projects, Early Math Initiative, Golden State Teacher Grant, Classified School Employee Credentialing Program  and Teacher Residencies stand to receive substantial increases in funding, albeit one-time given  concerns over reduced state revenues in out years. As much as a temporary boost in support is needed, we know the teacher workforce challenges will not be resolved in a single year. Consequently, we have included in our budget priorities and legislative advocacy efforts recommendations to provide ongoing and sustained funding for these important programs. Only then will they have the confidence to invest in the infrastructure needed to significantly ramp up their capacity and launch a response that is commensurate with the magnitude of the problem. Budget negotiations in Sacramento are just beginning, so we will continue to advance these priorities and report on our progress.

Mathematics Framework Public Review – Now Open

On January 21, the Instructional Quality Commission approve the draft the 2021 Mathematics Curriculum Framework for its first 60-day public review period. The draft was posted and the review window opened on February 8. This proposed draft of the framework includes new elements such as adding Distance Learning to the technology chapter, a chapter on Data Science, and three chapters that address learning progressions across TK-12 All interested parties are encouraged to participate in the public review. Please click here for a comprehensive timeline for the development and adoption of the new framework.

The California State University recently hosted a webinar with two of the framework authors during which they walk participants through the design of the framework, what is new or different from the 2013 version, and gives the listener insight into the thinking that went into this draft of the 2021 framework. The webinar is available at Many thanks to our friends at the CSU for making this resource available.

State Board Cancels Special Meeting to Consider Testing Waiver Application

On February 4, the State Board of Education cancelled the meeting they had scheduled for February 10 to discuss and possibly take action to submit an assessment waiver request to the federal Department of Education (similar to that in 2020). The previous administration had explicitly stated they would not entertain assessment waiver requests for 2021. However, the board agenda item indicates that there are signals from Washington under the new administration that an opportunity to submit a request for an assessment waiver is forthcoming. (See Item 1 on the Board’s February 10, 2021 agenda.) The meeting may be rescheduled when the U.S. Department of Education releases guidance regarding the 2020-2021 administration of assessments. During his confirmation hearing, President Biden’s Secretary of Education appointee Miguel Cardona did not commit to a position on the assessment issue and indicated he will gather additional input from states.

Both state and federal law require assessments to be administered by the state on an annual basis in grades three through eight and 11 in both English Language Arts and Mathematics. Additionally, state and federal law also require a science assessment to be administered annually once in elementary, middle, and high school. California administers the California Science Test (CAST) in grades five, eight, and 11.

Many education groups, including the California Teachers Association, California Federation of Teachers, the Association of School Administrators, the California School Boards Association, and others have written to the Board and requested an assessment waiver option be explored for 2021. At the January State Board of Education meeting, the majority of board members expressed support for pursing an assessment waiver or flexibilities from the federal government. Flexibilities discussed included participation rate and the timing and window of the administration. As a reminder in January 2020 the State Board approved a revision to the CAST blueprint due to testing times concerned (the CAST guidelines call for the assessment to be less than two hours) and in November 2020, the Board approved a revision to the blueprints for Smarter Balanced assessments for English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics in order to allow for a short form. The idea behind the November 2020 action was to minimize testing time given the challenges posed with administering the assessment in pandemic conditions.

Children Now, the Education Trust – West, and other organizations are advocating that testing continue in 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting implementation of distance learning has taken a significant toll on California’s students, and we have scant information to understand the impact of these extreme circumstances. Moreover, we know students who were already furthest from opportunity  before the pandemic have been disproportionately impacted by the negative aspects of distance learning and COVID-19. School and district leaders, students, parents, and community members need as much information as possible to better understand these impacts and develop solutions centering the needs of these students. The planned California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress  assessments are one source of much-needed data to begin to understand how to best meet the needs of students during the pandemic and into the recovery period.

During these times of academic uncertainty, it is even more important that parents have a clear understanding of their children’s academic status based on the state’s standards, especially compared with other students in their school, district, and in the state. Without these assessments, parents may have very little information about what their children’s academic needs are and how to best serve them. Families should also receive test reports with clear guidance about how to interpret and use the results to advocate for their children.

Biden-Harris Administration Ushers in New Leadership and Opportunity

With the inauguration of Joe Biden as President and Kamala Harris as Vice President, a new leadership team will be at the helm at the U.S. Department of Education. Miguel Cardona, formerly the head of the Connecticut state education agency, has been named by President Biden as the new Secretary of Education. He comes to this position with both a depth and breadth of educational experience having been a teacher, principal, district superintendent, and state schools chief. Cardona’s second-in-command and the new Deputy Secretary is expected to be Cindy Marten, who has served as the superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District since 2013. San Diego Unified has been a leader in STEM education and implemented a model program of integrated STEM instruction in more than half of their elementary schools. We featured the district’s innovative efforts to create a solid foundation in STEM beginning in the early grades during our July 2020 webinar, Building Agile Systems to Scale TK-12 STEAM Efforts. In addition to the new leaders at the Department, we will see someone with a California connection at the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House. Dr. Alondra Nelson has been named Deputy Director for Science and Society. She was previously the president of the Social Science Research Council and Harold F. Linder Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. In addition, Dr. Nelson earned her undergraduate degree at U.C. San Diego. We look forward to working collaboratively with all of these national leaders and as a first step, we communicated our education policy recommendations to the Biden-Harris transition team in December.

Congress Introduces Learning Recovery Act of 2021

On January 28th the House of Representatives introduced the Learning Recovery Act of 2021 as part of a three-bill package from the House Education and Labor Committee. Together, the package of legislation represents a key element of the Committee’s response to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on students, educators, and families. It is expected that these proposals will be included in the Committee’s COVID-19 bill that could pass Congress through the budget reconciliation process. Specifically, the Learning Recovery Act would provide $75 billion over two years allocated to school districts through the Title I Part A formula. The funds are designed to support programs like afterschool, summer school/extended learning and other school programs. The legislation would also direct the Institute of Education Sciences to conduct research on the effects of lost instructional time and it emphasizes equity by prioritizing communities with the greatest need. For more information about the Learning Recovery Act of 2021, see the following fact sheet and click here for the full bill text. For more information about the Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act click here for a fact sheet and for more information about the  Save Education Jobs Act click here for a fact sheet.