State education chief Thurmond is piecing together the future of post-pandemic education in California

Joe W. Bowers Jr | California Black Media

(CBM) — For Tony Thurmond, African-American Superintendent of Public Instruction in California, American public education will never be the same after experiencing what it has experienced for the past two years.

“The pandemic has really brought to light where there were big holes, gaps and inequalities,” Thurmond told California Black Media (CBM). “In a nation with the wealth that we have, that there should be a digital divide, I think that’s just a great example of the kinds of inequalities that have existed.”

But Thurmond is hopeful. Working with lawmakers in the California Senate and Assembly, he sponsors and supports a series of targeted laws that, if approved, would increase access to educational opportunities and improve learning for Black, Hispanic and others who have been most affected by the pandemic. many children

Thurmond’s target programs underperform on state standardized tests.

As a former Assemblyman representing Alameda County’s 15th District from 2014 to 2018, Thurmond is familiar with the sausage making that goes into creating politics. He leverages knowledge of this process, he says, to transform public education.

He told CBM, “Our number one bill is Senate Bill (SB) 1229.” The bill drafted by Sen. Mike McGuire (D-North Coast) offers incentives to hire 10,000 professionals to help meet the growing mental health needs of students. SB 1229 is offering $25,000 grants to aspiring mental health clinicians who commit to serving a minimum of two years as a mental health professional, either in a school district or in a community-serving organization. young people in high-needs areas.

About eight million Californians, most from communities of color, live in areas where there is a shortage of behavioral health professionals.

“There is no doubt that our students need all kinds of support for their school recovery, but our students and their families really need to heal from the trauma that is this pandemic.” said Thurmond. “We have seen a spike in suicide among black students; we have seen an increase in hospitalizations among young people.

Addressing children’s literacy and biliteracy is another of Thurmond’s priorities. Last year, he announced his vision that by 2026, all California students will be literate in third grade. He assembled a statewide literacy task force of experts and community partners to devise a strategy to achieve this goal. Additionally, to support the initiative, Thurmond pledged to secure one million book donations for students in need and surpassed its goal with over five million free online books downloaded.

Thurmond is sponsoring three bills focused on expanding literacy in conjunction with two lawmakers: Senator Monique Limón (D-Santa Barbara) and Assemblywoman Mia Bonta (D-Alameda).

The first is Senate Bill (SB) 952 (Limón), drafted to help existing schools convert to bilingual immersion programs. The second, Assembly Bill (AB) 2498 (Bonta), would expand Freedom School programs – evidence-based Afrocentric literacy programs that have been shown to help students improve their reading from one to two levels in as little as six weeks. The third is AB 2465 (Bonta), which would expand literacy programs to fund home visits.

According to Limon, “bilingual schools have demonstrated cognitive, social, cultural, economic and educational benefits for students. They are effective in closing the achievement gap, and test results show that most bilingual schools outperform other demographically similar schools.

Assemblywoman Mia Bonta (D-Alameda), who is a member of the statewide literacy task force, said, “AB 2465 was inspired by the recommendations of the task force. of the state superintendent to improve third-grade reading.”

Thurmond is sponsoring several other game-changing education bills. Among them is SB 830, which Sen. Anthony J. Portantino (D-Thousand Oaks) introduced. The legislation calls for funding schools based on enrollment in school districts instead of attendance. It would also fund efforts to tackle chronic absenteeism and school truancy.

Then there’s AB1614, legislation introduced by Assemblymen Al Muratsuchi (D-Rolling Hills Estates) and Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach), who chairs the Assembly’s Education Committee. . This bill would increase the funding base for schools to provide greater flexibility to all school districts in the state.

According to Thurmond, “SB 830 gives districts predictability about how they receive funding and gives them significant resources to address what has been one of our most confusing challenges: dealing with chronic absenteeism from a way we haven’t seen before. This will put students and schools on a better path to further close the opportunity and education gaps.

Thurmond threw his support behind AB 2806, legislation that would help reduce suspensions for preschoolers. This bill was introduced by Congresswoman Blanca Rubio (D-Baldwin Park). He is a sponsor of AB 2088 presented by Assemblyman Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove) which would provide paid internships for students as part of their vocational technical education courses or pathways. According to Thurmond, another bill that will help address the challenges ahead is AB 2794 which would fund the School De-escalation Specialists pilot program under the administration of the California Department of Education (CDE) to provide one-time grants to local educational agencies for the creation or expansion of non-police school safety programs. The bill was introduced by Assemblyman Mike Gipson (D-Carson).

Thurmond notes that there appears to be no opposition to any of the bills he supports.

“I think the biggest challenge is that these bills have a cost and they’re asking for money,” Thurmond told CBM. “I happen to think that while all of them are important if you invest in mental health, if you

invest in programs like literacy and bilingual programs, these programs will have a high return on investment for California schools.

With funds included by Governor Gavin Newsom in the state budget and passed by the Legislative Assembly, the Thurmond Department of Education implements a Universal Pre-Kindergarten Planning and Implementation Grant Program (PUK). The initiative will expand pre-kindergarten for every four-year-old child. The budget covers a program serving two free meals (breakfast and lunch) during each school day to K-12 students. There is also a $3 billion budget to create community schools across the state that provide additional services for students and families.

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