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California provides $6.6 billion to reopen schools

California’s governor said on Monday (March 1) he and Democratic lawmakers had reached a deal to fund the reopening of schools for the state’s youngest students, up to second grade, as the number of new COVID-19 cases drop to their lowest this year.

California’s $6.6 billion budget package marks the latest effort by a U.S. state to get schoolchildren back in class, after nearly a year confined to home learning by political leaders in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

“You can’t reopen your economy unless you get your schools reopened for in-person instruction,” Governor Gavin Newsom, said at a Monday afternoon news briefing announcing the agreement with Democratic leaders in the state legislature.

But the deal does not include an order by Newsom, a first-term Democrat, for public schools to open by a certain date, and the governor conceded that negotiations may still need to take place with teachers’ unions.

“We expect all of our transitional kindergarten to grade two classrooms open within the next month,” Newsom said. “And our core belief is this: Once you dip your toe in … once you build trust, then we will start to see a cadence of reopening across the spectrum.”

The $6.6 billion in funds goes in part to pay for additional personal protective gear and improved classroom ventilation. The deal would also make vaccinations of teachers and other school employees a priority in California, the nation’s most populous state.

Newsom has imposed some of the harshest restrictions of any U.S. state on California’s roughly 40 million residents, and many businesses remain closed one year into the pandemic.

The governor, who was sharply criticized after he was photographed eating at a posh Napa Valley restaurant late last year after ordering Californians to stay home, has seen his approval ratings dip and is the subject of a recall effort. 

A Reuters tally shows that COVID-19 infections are decreasing in the United States, with 68,240 new infections reported on average each day, or 27 percent of the peak daily average reported on Jan. 7. The United States has recorded 28,681,793 infections and 513,721 coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic began.

Despite plummeting numbers of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths nationwide, most students across the United States remain stuck at home as governors and local leaders seek to navigate complicated political and logistical hurdles to reopen schools.

(Production: Jane Ross)


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