California Agrees to Channel $2 Billion to Support Struggling Learners in Settlement of Lawsuit

California plans to allocate a minimum of $2 billion towards learning recovery for disadvantaged students who fell behind during the pandemic, according to a recent legal settlement. This agreement acknowledges the concerns raised by thousands of families across the state about their children receiving insufficient assistance after schools were closed in 2020 and 2021. However, it also attempts to reconcile California’s financial commitments to students with a $32 billion budget deficit faced by lawmakers this year.

Under the settlement, school districts will receive funding based on the number of high-needs populations they serve, such as low-income students, English learners, and foster children. State legislators will direct schools and districts to use the funding for interventions with a proven track record of success, such as in-school tutoring.

Ben Austin, the founder of the nonprofit organization Education Civil Rights Now, described the settlement as a necessary but insufficient step towards addressing the historic injustice faced by an entire generation of children. He emphasized the inclusion of funding and basic accountability measures tied to outcomes for kids.

Ben Austin

The California State Board of Education spokesman stated that the details of the agreement are appropriate and acknowledged the collaborative approach and insights provided by the plaintiffs.

A lawsuit filed in 2020 by Cayla J. against the State of California accused state officials of mishandling the transition to remote learning and failing to address the resulting learning loss. The case was brought by fifteen students from Oakland and Los Angeles, along with two community organizations, against the state superintendent, the state board, and the California Department of Education.

Several plaintiffs reported receiving only a few days of live teaching and limited instruction hours during the pandemic school closures. Even households with district-provided devices often had inadequate high-speed internet, resulting in minimal schooling during those months.

Standardized test scores have shown a significant decline in student achievement, even four years after the emergence of COVID-19. Recent data from the Education Recovery Scorecard, a research partnership between Harvard and Stanford, indicates that many California students are still behind grade level in math and reading skills.

The response to the settlement from education observers across the state has been mixed, reflecting the ongoing disputes over COVID-era shutdowns and the challenges ahead for educators and policymakers.

Lance Christensen

Lance Christensen, the Republican nominee for state superintendent in 2022, acknowledged the significance of providing additional resources to the students most affected by academic disruptions. However, he expressed concerns about the focus on struggling districts, suggesting that more money alone will not solve the problem. He emphasized the need for comprehensive solutions in a broken system.

The funding for the targeted spending will come from the existing source of the state’s $7.9 billion Learning Recovery Block Grants initiative. Last year, there were concerns about proposed budget cuts due to the state’s financial challenges caused by the pandemic and migration. The settlement does not guarantee the restoration of the previously promised funds.

Ted Lempert, the president of advocacy organization Children Now, is encouraged by the strict mandates on how recovery funds should be spent. However, he believes that much more needs to be done to fully address learning loss, including the restoration of last year’s funding cuts.

Lakisha Young, the CEO of Oakland REACH, one of the community organizations involved in the lawsuit, sees the agreement as a meaningful victory. She believes that families and communities that historically had a limited sense of agency can make a significant impact and create positive change for all students across the state.

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