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State Ed Budget: Crucial Investments in Young People’s Health & Wellness

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On January 8th, Governor Newsom released his proposed 2021-2022 budget. After a year when students and families have struggled through a pandemic, natural disasters, a historic election, and the different manifestations of white supremacy, we commend Governor Newsom’s commitment to addressing racial equity by investing in public education, and also recognize we still have a long way to go.

California’s success and prosperity depends on our public schools’ capacity to serve as beacons of light and hope that spark opportunity. We can see clearly in this crisis that schools aren’t just about preparing kids for careers but about the health and wellness of entire communities. 

Amid COVID we continue to see students of color, students who live in rural areas and low-income communities, facing the biggest disparities in online learning and basic needs. CFJ student leaders and our allies used their voice and power to elevate pressing issues to our state and local leaders, and we are happy to see many of our top racial justice priorities reflected in these aspects of the Governor’s 2021-22 budget:

  • Mental health and wellness – $265 million for community schools that address student needs inside and outside the classroom; $450 million for state, county, and local partnerships to ensure mental health services are more easily accessible to the highest needs students and families.
  • Relationships & school climate — $10 million to fund school climate surveys that provide critical data on student, parent, and staff relationships, engagement, safety, and conditions of learning.
  • Restorative and equitable approach to learning — $4.6 billion to address the significant academic, social and emotional harm students have experienced due to the pandemic, with a focus on the highest needs students (low-income, English Learners, foster youth, youth experiencing homelessness, students of not graduating).

With everything that has happened in 2020 and 2021 so far, many of us know that mental health, wellness and healing is intrinsically tied to racial justice. We are happy to see student health and well-being addressed in the budget, and will continue to demand these investments beyond this moment of crisis. 

We also want to celebrate the state’s commitment to equity by prioritizing many of its investments for low-income families, English language learners, youth in foster care, students experiencing homelessness, and students in special education. However, we hope to see an additional focus on re-engaging students who have missed all or significant amounts of school since March 2020 (estimated at 10-25% of students, or 500,000 Californian youth, in a recent study), and students in jeopardy of not graduating high school.

“We need support for seniors now,” says one Oakland CFJ youth leader. “The lack of stability in the family during this time may push high school and college students to choose between school or getting a job to support their family.” The students that are hardest to reach and those at critical transition points in their lives are the ones we must invest in reaching out to the most.

As we start seeing the potential sunset of COVID, we also understand that there will be long-term generational impacts from the pandemic for young people, which requires long-term multi-year budget commitments to invest in that recovery. The opportunity gap has only widened this past year for Black, Brown and indigenous students, and we will need more than one-time investments to address the lingering effects of the pandemic and the years of harm and underinvestment to students-of-color. Though California is one of the wealthiest of the United States, we are in the bottom third of the nation in education funding. The insufficient commitment to funding public schools has serious repercussions including in this moment. 

Now more than ever, this virus has shown us that we are dependent on each other and, no matter where we come from, what we look like, or how much money we have, we know it’s time to pull together to take care of each student, family, and community in California. 

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