Gov. Gavin Newsom announces a new requirement for all school teachers and employees to show proof of vaccination or to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing at a press conference held at Carl B. Munck Elementary School in Oakland on Aug. 11, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
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Good morning, California. It’s Monday, January 10.
Emergency $$ a priority
Today, Gov. Gavin Newsom is set to unveil his budget proposal for the fiscal year starting in July — but, in a sign that California is scrambling to keep up with the omicron variant, he wants state lawmakers to immediately approve $1.4 billion in emergency COVID funding.
Here’s a closer look at the $2.7 billion proposal, which the administration expects to largely be reimbursed by the federal government:
$1.2 billion to bolster testing, including expanding clinic hours and capacity and sending rapid tests to local health departments and schools. (However, as of Friday, 17 of 58 counties still had not received rapid tests that Newsom on Dec. 22 promised would be made available to California’s 6 million public school students before they returned to campus from winter break.)
$614 million to boost staffing at vaccination sites and health care facilities, which are so short on workers that the California Department of Public Health is evaluating whether to order hospitals to suspend elective surgeries in cases in which patients wouldn’t be immediately harmed, CalMatters’ Barbara Feder Ostrov reports.
$583 million to continue vaccine education campaigns, including “combating misinformation” in partnership with 250 ethnic media outlets.
$200 million to increase staffing and tech capacity at state emergency response and public health agencies.
$110 million to expand contact tracing and offer vaccines, testing, and isolation and quarantine services to migrants at the Mexico border.
But three key actions his administration took on Friday and over the weekend suggest that COVID will likely dominate financial and political debates at the Capitol — even as Republican lawmakers begged Newsom to declare a special legislative session devoted to homelessness.
He signed an executive order that generally prohibits sellers from raising prices on COVID at-home test kits by more than 10%. (Meanwhile, counties from San Francisco to San Diego are warning about a proliferation in fake COVID testing sites.)
The state Department of Public Health issued controversial guidance allowing asymptomatic COVID-positive or exposed workers at hospitals and skilled nursing facilities to immediately return to work without isolation or additional testing — another indication of critically low staffing levels. Health care workers immediately decried the move.
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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Saturday, California had 5,634,357 confirmed cases(+1.9% from previous day) and 76,341 deaths(+0.4% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
California’s most comprehensive picture to date of the pandemic’s impact on K-12 education emerged Friday, when the state Department of Education released student performance data for the 2020-21 school year, which many kids spent almost entirely in distance learning.CalMatters education reporter Joe Hong noted these key takeaways:
Less than 25% of students took state standardized tests in 2021 — though that’s an improvement from 2020, when the tests were cancelled altogether. Of the students who participated, just 49% met or exceeded English standards, a number that dropped to 34% in math. (In 2019, about 51% of students met English standards and 40% met math standards.)
Graduation rates decreased to 83.6% from 84.2% the previous year — and Black students suffered the largest drop, falling more than 4 percentage points to 72.5%. Meanwhile, chronic absenteeism rose from 12% to 14%.
Finally, experts say the data may underestimate learning loss among vulnerable populations, since students who were chronically absent or lacked stable internet access likely didn’t take standardized tests.
For many education leaders, the data reinforced the importance of in-person learning — just as some schools started shutting down again. Hayward Unified School District said Friday that it will hold classes remotely for a week starting today amid a surge in omicron cases, while 12 Oakland schools closed Friday when 500 teachers held a sickout to call for enhanced safety measures. On Saturday, the California Teachers Association reiterated its commitment to in-person learning while also calling on the state to increase protections and restore COVID supplemental paid sick leave.
2.‘Great Resignation’ hits Legislature
If you like action sports, try keeping up with the California Legislature during an election year spiced up by newly redrawn districts and looming term limits. The high-octane mix has resulted in a degree of churn not seen in at least seven years, with 14 assemblymembers and state senators so far calling it quits or deciding not to seek reelection in November — on top of seven senators hitting their term limits and an assemblymember hoping to jump to the state Senate, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher reports. The frenzied game of musical chairs — which is far from over — will likely alter the policies coming out of Sacramento: After the November election, the 120-member Legislature will usher in at least 21 new lawmakers. But the uncertainty caused by so many moving parts could affect legislators’ decisions even before then, said Democratic Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell of Long Beach, who announced last week he won’t seek reelection.
O’Donnell: It’s “gonna have an impact on policy. People are probably going to be more cautious of the big bills that seek to do Herculean changes.”
The turnover could also affect organized labor, which lost its biggest legislative ally last week when Democratic Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego resigned to take over the California Labor Federation. But a controversial bill Gonzalez introduced last year — which narrowly failed to pass the state Assembly — is expected to be revived this year. The proposal would overhaul the fast-food industry by establishing a state-appointed council to set industry-wide standards for wages and work conditions — and hold corporate franchisors, not just local franchise owners, responsible for compliance, Jackie Botts and Jesse Bedayn report for CalMatters’ California Divide project. Yet Gonzalez herself says that an employee-led, worksite-by-worksite approach would be preferable to the state government getting involved in private negotiations.
Gonzalez: “Maybe an individual fast food franchisee or restaurant says, ‘You know what, I’d rather have a conversation with my workers in my workplace, allow them if they so want to unionize, and provide them not what these people at the state level are bargaining for but what the workers in my workplace actually want.’ That would be a great solution.”
Reform California’s prescription drug rebate system: State lawmakers should pass Assembly Bill 933 to address the cost barriers that frequently prevent people from getting the care they need, writes David Lloyd of The Kennedy Forum.