State reopening agreement includes $456 million for paraeducators

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Yesterday, the Governor and the Legislature announced they have reached an agreement on reopening TK-12 schools for in-person instruction. Senate Bill 86 is designed to provide the guidelines and the funding to get our students back in the classroom and address the lost learning opportunities they may have experienced since the beginning of the pandemic.

You probably know that a month ago, we put together our own pathway to reopening, in collaboration with our fellow education labor groups, and presented it to our state leaders in Sacramento. We named our proposal CLASSES, which stands for Classroom Learning and Safe Schools for Employees and Students, because it represents what we believe is necessary to protect the health of our students and staff as schools reopen.

Well, it's obvious the voices of those who know how schools operate - our voices - were heard because the legislation announced includes much of what we proposed.

Here are the major components of the $6.6 billion legislation announced yesterday:

  • $456 million to rehire laid-off paraeducators and hire new paraeducators to meet the increased needs of our students, representing 10% of $4.6 billion allocated to address our students' learning needs by increasing instructional supports and expanding learning time.

  • Codifies the governor’s announcement that 10 percent of the state’s allotment of vaccines are dedicated to school staff.

  • The legislation also commits $2 billion toward reopening costs for schools that reopen between April 1st and May 15th.

  • Requires that all LEAs continue to comply with pre-existing collective bargaining requirements and submit a plan to apportion this funding by June 1st in consultation with school staff and parents.

This legislation is a strong statement from our state leaders that they take seriously the importance of in-person learning for our students, and they want to see that happen safely. We appreciate the time and effort it took for them to research and analyze the complexity of the situation, make difficult decisions and come to an agreement.

There are a few things we would have liked to see in it, like a stricter asymptomatic testing cadence and more comprehensive mitigation strategies that were detailed in our CLASSES proposal. But, as the saying goes, we can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and this legislation is definitely a good start to getting our students and staff safely back to classroom learning.

This would not have come together as it has without the direct efforts of your union. Our Governmental Relations team has a strong and respected voice in Sacramento because state leaders know that classified staff are not only essential to keeping our students learning, but they also know that we are the experts on the subject. Many of you have seen media reporting that education unions were roadblocks in this process. That couldn’t be further from the truth. We worked with lawmakers to help them make informed decisions that reach the best outcome for our students while keeping all of us, students and staff, safe.

From the beginning of this process, there were two items we identified as critical to reopening. The first was to give every school employee the opportunity to be vaccinated because we knew that was the key to keeping students and staff safe. The second item was funding to address the lost learning opportunities our students have experienced during lockdown. There have been many recent studies that show what we, as classified staff, already know: that the best way to help our students overcome the "COVID Slide" is through the individualized attention provided by our paraeducators. I'm extremely proud to say that your union has delivered on both of those two key priorities: vaccines and funding for more paraeducators.

Things are moving fast and they are moving in the right direction. I know you can't wait to be reunited with your students, and I'm sure they are excited to see their favorite staff members as well. Please be patient as these changes are rolled out and schools gear up for a return.

And even though we're seeing a sliver of normalcy returning to our lives, this doesn't mean we're out of the woods. Please continue to practice all the safety protocols that keep you and your family safe.

In Solidarity,

Ben Valdepeña

Association President