Black Lawmakers Back $6.6B Plan for Reopening Schools
By Bo Tefu
California Black Media
Black officials and health advocates across the state have thrown their support behind Gov. Gavin Newsom’s equity-informed plan for safely reopening California’s schools and economy.
The plan includes an increased education budget, as well as vaccine distribution protocols informed by data to minimize the threat of COVID-19 spread.
Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, said the vaccine equity plan addresses the injustices and health disparities in the communities most affected by the pandemic.
“The virus has magnified the systemic and structural racism our communities have experienced in the criminal justice, education, and health care systems for generations,” Sen. Bradford said. “We are first in line for infection and death but last when it comes to the vaccine. Black Californians need to be included in practice and not just in a promise if we want to truly be a California for all.”
The state has set aside 40 % of its vaccine doses for distribution in communities the most impacted by the coronavirus, as part of its Blueprint for a Safer Economy initiative. Last week, Gov. Newsom signed a $6.6 billion bill to accelerate the safe reopening of schools and expand student support statewide. An additional $30 million was administered to 180 community organizations that will prioritize underserved populations disproportionately affected by the pandemic through outreach programs and healthcare resources.
Rhonda Smith, executive director of the California Black Health Network, said many low-income individuals in underserved communities seek health care services at community health care centers. State officials funding local community health centers addresses the challenge of limited supplies and resources for vaccine distribution, said Smith.
“Working with trusted resources providers and community partners is important. They are key influencers in our communities where there are concerns and hesitancy about the vaccine,” Smith said.
Racial disparities in the healthcare system have contributed to the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on the African American population, said Smith, emphasizing that chronic diseases and underlying health issues have put African Americans at greater risk of being infected with the coronavirus.
The state’s goal is to administer two million vaccine doses for communities that were the most affected by the coronavirus. State officials also updated protocols and metrics – such as effective testing locations, contact tracing, and quarantine procedures – to reduce the spread of the coronavirus while maximizing vaccine efficacy.
Once authorities successfully vaccinate two million people in the hardest hit communities in the state, which represents about 25 % of eligible Californians, the governor’s office will readjust its “Blueprint for a Safer Economy,” a color-coded, four-tiered system California currently uses to tighten or loosen restrictions county by county. The tiers will be updated to allow for somewhat higher case rates. The purple (widespread) tier will shift from greater than 7 cases per 100,000 to greater than 10 cases per 100,000; and the Red (Substantial) tier will be widened to 4-10 cases per 100,000.
Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles), vice-chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, said the vaccine equity plan helps close the privilege gap between the “haves and the have-nots.”
“Vaccines are the ticket to the end of the pandemic. For too long, those tickets were taken by people with a wealth of time and resources,” Kamlager said. “The playing field has been leveled so those in our community who work for a living and can’t sit on their computer all day will now have the opportunity to get their fair share of vaccines.”
Last week, Kamlager won a special election for state senator representing California’s 30th District, which covers areas in Los Angeles County.
Gov. Newsom said it is “morally right” to increase vaccinations in communities most affected by the pandemic. As more people get vaccinated, the state’s long-term goals are to lower the infection rate, facilitate equitable vaccine distribution and create an accelerated path toward reopening, administration officials said.
Gov. Newsom’s $6.6 billion bill aims to provide adequate academic, mental health, and social-emotional support for students across California. The proposed education budget includes $2 billion for in-person instruction and safety measures such as personal protective equipment, ventilation upgrades, and COVID-19 testing. The remaining $4.6 billion is set to fund expanded learning opportunities such as summer school and academic tutoring.
Legislative leaders at Franklin Elementary School in the Elk Grove Unified School District near Sacramento are taking the lead, working closely with the governor to reopen grades K-6 in Mid-March and grades 7-12 in early April.
Gov. Newsom said his plans are based on “reimagining the school year,” in addition to building confidence and trust for caregivers, educators, and parents who are hesitant about schools reopening.
“We incentivize opening up our schools, by providing real resources to do it,” Gov. Newsom said.
The federal government also approved Medicaid funding to expand coronavirus testing for low-income students nationwide. The California Department of Health Care Services has requested permission to provide testing in K-12 schools through Medi-Cal, the state’s primary health care system. Medi-Cal provides coverage for more than half of California’s population under age 20.
Gov. Newsom said the federal government’s approval to expand testing in efforts to boost health equity helps, “ensure schools can reopen safely in underserved neighborhoods that are bearing the brunt of pandemic hardships.”
California Black Media’s coverage of COVID-19 is supported by the California Health Care Foundation.