On Wednesday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) proposed spending $2 billion to incentivize local school districts to reopen elementary schools starting in February to assist youngest and neediest students at a time when the Coronavirus pandemic is still raging in parts of the state.

His proposal appears to be the first offered by any governor to use large-scale funding to help reopen schools. The state legislature must approve it first.

Newsom said he will ask legislators for the money when their next session opens in January.

The state’s effort will be in line with President-elect Joe Biden’s declaration that he wants to help districts reopen most schools in the first 100 days of his presidency, which starts Jan. 20.

It’s not clear how many districts will qualify for funding to reopen. Schools that would be eligible to reopen, according to the governor’s plan, which must be in counties with a seven-day average Coronavirus positivity rate of fewer than 28 cases. Most urban areas in the state now have much higher rates of transmission.

“As a father of four, I know firsthand what parents, educators and pediatricians continue to say: In-person is the best setting to meet not only the learning needs, but the mental health and social-emotional needs of our kids,” Newsom said.

The Los Angeles Times reported that state officials plan to make local re-openings contingent on agreements between labor unions and districts.

The $2 billion, if approved by the legislature, will be used for safety measures, including Coronavirus testing for all students and staffers, personal protective equipment and updated ventilation systems. The plan also provides for improved coordination between school and health officials for contact tracing.

Newsom named Naomi Bardach, a pediatrician and school safety specialist, to lead what he is calling the Safe Schools for All Team, a cross-agency group to help schools with reopening plans.

The announcement comes nearly two months after the superintendents of the six largest school districts in the state sent Newsom a letter asking him for statewide guidance on how to safely reopen their schools during the pandemic.

They released a statement expressing cautious optimism about the plan. 

“We will provide a thorough response prior to the Legislature reconvening on Jan. 11,” it said.

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