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When San Diego Unified Trustee Richard Barrera told a state Senate panel last week that he thought Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to reopen schools was unrealistic and unworkable, he was far from alone.

One of the panelists, Sen. Connie Leyva, even remarked: “I would like to know there’s actually a school district out there that thinks this plan is workable because I have not found one.”

What was unusual about Barrera’s remarks was his suggestion about what should happen to the billions of dollars the governor wants to give to schools that do create plans to reopen. Barrera thinks schools should stay closed – but that they should pocket that money anyway.

“Take that $4.6 billion and add to that the $2 billion that’s in an unworkable plan the governor put into reopening, and put those resources into the needs of our students now,” Barrera said.

EdSource reported this week that “at this point, it appears more likely that more than 70% of districts won’t seek the money.”

Given that most if not all of the state’s reopening incentive money is poised to sit left on the table, I share Barrera’s view that it should nonetheless be spent on students’ needs. I disagree, though, that the best way to do that would be to give the money to schools that aren’t opening. Kids are learning at home – so give the money to their parents.

Parents, frankly, are losing it.

“Many parents in San Francisco have reached their boiling point this week when it comes to the lack of a plan to reopen public schools,” one San Francisco Chronicle journalist wrote this week. She quoted a devastating email from a parent who wrote, “I quit my job in order to be home with them and help navigate distance learning and I am seeing firsthand how ineffective and mind numbing it often is. I can’t afford to stay home with them forever and I am scared about what will happen to them if I return to work.”

Since distance learning has dragged on for part of a year, these aren’t new concerns.

Brianne Russell, a parent of two children in the Oceanside Unified School District, previously told Voice of San Diego she’s increasingly concerned that her kids will fail without the structure of in-person learning.

“I know I’m at the risk of sounding uncaring and harsh, but it’s bothering me that teachers have the right not to be exposed but here I am; I’m a grocery worker and I’m on front lines of the pandemic beginning Day 1,” Russell told VOSD’s Kayla Jimenez. “It kind of says to me my life is less than a teacher’s.”

Certainly distance learning is rough on teachers too – many of whom go out of their way to keep their students engaged and on track.

But most teachers have powerful unions in their corner – and those unions already helped secure more money than ever for schools even amid a pandemic that has devastated the economy. The governor’s budget includes billions of dollars to reopen schools in addition to the incentive money, plus cost-of-living adjustments for educators. They received an adjustment last year, too.

Parents don’t have a union, and many have either lost their jobs amid the pandemic or, as the San Francisco parent demonstrated, they’ve voluntarily left the workforce to oversee their kids’ education.

Though considering politics might seem crass amid a conversation about children’s education, reallocating the school incentive money to give to parents might foster some serious goodwill for Newsom, who’s facing a recall and badly needs it.

By continually demanding more and more money every year no matter the circumstance, whether it’s from the state or from voters, educators have inadvertently been making the case for a long time that parents deserve this money.

Educating kids doesn’t just cost energy and time and effort. It costs actual money. So give it to the people who’ve been forced to shoulder that role for close to a year now.

What VOSD Learned This Week

In 2018, VOSD and San Diego Unified entered into a legal settlement meant to curtail the district’s illegal public records practices. But soon after, the district trained high-level officials on how to delete emails from its server, in violation of the settlement – and the law.

Meanwhile, the state has tried to end confusion about when schools are allowed to reopen. But that might not matter if teachers predicate their return to the classroom on receiving vaccines and a number of other requirements. We talked about the vaccine conundrum on this week’s podcast, and I delved into the statewide battle over school reopening plans in the Sacramento Report.

***

VOSD and others have delved deep into the controversy over 101 Ash St. But Lisa Halverstadt explored one aspect that’s remained unexplained: the role real estate pro Jason Hughes, acting as a volunteer for the city, played in shaping the deal.

Elsewhere downtown, the booming tech sector is reshaping the area while the tourism and hospitality sectors continue to struggle.

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You’ve probably heard a lot about eviction relief efforts over the last week. But MacKenzie Elmer reveals another way in which many residents are struggling: Thousands of San Diegans are way behind on their water bills.

What I’m Reading

Line of the Week

“We have to get rid of this notion of not-in-my-backyard.” – With Marcia Fudge, might be on our way to our first YIMBY housing secretary.

Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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