UTLA Statement: Proposed state budget needs more work

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Governor Newsom’s proposed budget is a critical step forward, but more work needs to be done to reflect our reality on the ground, as COVID-19 rampages through our communities. In our most vulnerable communities in LA Unified, 1 in 3 children has tested positive for the virus — a shockingly high number that underscores the danger behind calls to reopen schools no matter the threat to student and staff safety. No school in a county where COVID-19 cases and transmission rates are in the Purple tier should be open for in-person instruction.


The budget provision to offer extra funding to schools that offer in-person instruction has a built-in bias against large districts like LA Unified, which are least likely to be able to reopen because of high community infection levels. Students in wealthy areas would benefit, while low-income children would be left behind. This provision would exacerbate inequities in learning and is another hit to the students we teach, who are predominately from the low-income communities of color that are suffering the brunt of the health and economic impacts of the pandemic. 


The budget rightly sets aside money for COVID-19 testing and vaccination, but that funding should come from public health funds and not from Prop. 98, which schools need for the regular operation of classrooms.


We are heartened that this week LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer called for all K-12 campuses to shut down through January amid the coronavirus surge. The County Board of Supervisors and Public Health must go further. It is unacceptable that nonessential activities such as outdoor gyms and indoor shopping malls are still open even as schools are shut down and ambulances wait hours to admit patients to overwhelmed hospitals.


UTLA educators — along with nurses, other healthcare professionals, grocery workers, hotel and restaurant employees, public health officials, and community organizations — are calling for the LA County Board of Supervisors to implement a county-wide “circuit breaker” lockdown of all nonessential businesses. Circuit breakers have been used effectively in other countries to suppress the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. 


Educators, students, and parents desperately want to be back in our physical learning communities, where we know students learn best. We need help to open our classroom doors: decisive action to reverse the deadly tide of the virus and a state budget, augmented by significant federal funding, that gives us the resources we need to reopen schools safely.