On Monday, nearly two dozen legislators sent this letter to Governor Newsom asking for greater accountability for schools not providing meals and education services at a level they desire.
Their concern for the well-being of our students is appreciated and completely understandable, but it underscores the imperative of educational leaders to directly communicate with their local lawmakers regarding the realities we are facing in public education during this pandemic.
In full recognition of how busy you are, this is unfortunately one more important thing we need to be doing during this crisis, because we're going to need the Legislature more than ever over the coming months. Our entire team is engaging with the Legislature and the Newsom Administration regarding expectations for the state budget as the Governor scrambles to put together a May Revision without April 15 tax data (the state tax deadline was extended to July 15, 2020). Additionally, our state lawmakers will be considering various state policy changes to mitigate the impact to school operations. They can't do this well in a data free environment. Therefore, it is essential state lawmakers have the most accurate sense of the work you are doing locally and the struggles you face.
Below, our team has put together an initial list of crucial issues to cover with lawmakers. You should have others to add to this list, as well.
At this time, it is important for your legislators to know:
- Health and safety is our first priority. We are primarily focused on keeping students and staff healthy while providing whatever services can feasibly be provided when schools are closed as part of that effort.
- Meal programs have been difficult to administer. Child nutrition and meal programs are tied to federal law and regulation, and until last Thursday, were mired in potentially unsafe standards being enforced while schools tried to do the right thing - feed hungry students. Despite these challenges, it is important to recognize that more than half of California’s school districts have been moving forward with feeding students even when relief from state and federal regulators was uncertain.
- Varying technology infrastructure hinders distance learning options. There is a disconnect between public expectations for readily available distance learning and the technology infrastructure that exists in schools across the state. California has not provided funding for technology in schools and it has put us nearly dead last in investment per-student compared to the rest of the nation. It is no wonder there is almost no coherence in distance learning strategies across the state.
- Distance learning is difficult to make work for all students. School districts are also appropriately fearful of their inability to fully ensure that all students have equal access to educational opportunities through their limited capacity to deliver distance learning.
- We're following the Governor's orders to do what is "practicable and feasible." Governor Newsom appropriately used the words “practicable and feasible” for a reason. He recognized the lack of uniform capacity across this very diverse state for every school to fulfill what could have been an entirely unreasonable mandate.
- We're paying our employees. The Governor and Legislature requested that schools continue to pay employees and contractors not just for services but to ensure that employees and their families are supported and jobs are maintained.
For superintendents and school board members, the best way to reach legislators is to contact them directly on their cell phone - if you have an established relationship and their phone number. If you do not, contact their Capitol office by phone (calls are being forwarded to reception staff). Legislative staff will usually find a way to connect superintendents and school board members directly to the legislator in a reasonable amount of time. We can also help facilitate connections, if you have trouble, so please don't hesitate to contact us.
It is important to note that nearly all state lawmakers are not in the Capitol right now, they're in their home districts trying to get a handle on the vital needs of their communities. So now is the best time to reach out to them directly and brief them on your accomplishments and struggles.
What's next? We'll follow-up to ask you to reach out to your legislators again in the near future to provide them with specific requests for policy changes and budget requests to help the pandemic.
We hope you and your family are healthy.
Capitol Advisors Group