Gov. Gavin Newsom of California – not to mention frustrated students and exhausted parents – got some good news Wednesday on the school-reopening front.
Two days after Newsom (D) announced a budget deal aimed at incentivizing public schools to start reopening for in-person learning by the end of the month, the federal government approved the state’s request to use federal Medicaid funds to test low-income students enrolled in the state’s Medi-Cal health insurance plan for COVID-19.
California is the first state to obtain permission from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to tap federal funds to pay for such testing. A news release announcing the waiver didn’t estimate how much money the state and school districts might save as a result, but with up to 55% of school-age children in California covered by Medi-Cal, the savings could be significant. The waiver is retroactive to Feb. 1 and will continue until 60 days after the pandemic officially ends.
The waiver came at a fortuitous moment, as it could provide momentum to the governor’s push to crank up in-class learning. The Democratic-controlled Legislature is likely to approve Newsom’s $6.6 billion school-reopening plan today.
Schools that want to get a chunk of the $2 billion in the reopening plan that’s been set aside to help defray reopening costs must be ready to offer in-person learning to kids from transitional kindergarten through second grade by the end of this month.
In addition, participating districts must open other elementary grades and at least one grade in middle and high schools when local COVID-19 infection rates fall to the second-highest tier of the state’s four-level state system. There is nothing in the state’s reopening proposal that requires testing of students and staff who are not showing any symptoms, but many teachers are unwilling to go back until a testing regime is in place.
The federal Medicaid waiver could help build momentum toward getting schools back to something resembling normal.
In a news release, Newsom expressed gratitude that the Biden administration approved the waiver for expanded testing because it would “ensure schools can reopen safely in underserved neighborhoods that are bearing the brunt of pandemic hardships. Our top priority is getting students back in the classroom to not only meet their learning needs, but also their mental health and social-emotional needs.”
For more information about safe returns to in-person instruction, go to schools.covid19.ca.gov.