Recovery and Renewal in Three California School Districts

From the working paper: "California districts have received billions of new public dollars to maintain operations during the pandemic – guarding against illness, avoiding layoffs, even to undertake new programs advanced by state policy makers. Confronted by daunting local challenges, how did district leaders and school principals allocate these large infusions of new funding? What internal deliberations yielded varying budget priorities? What internal deliberations yielded varying budget priorities? Who at district and school levels decides how to focus new dollars on recovery and renewal activities?

We found that district leaders engaged in a blend of institutional maintenance and recovery activities – especially health and safety measures for children and families, along with the return to in-person classrooms in the 2021-22 school year, based on our periodic interviews and site visits inside three districts. This report details the varying ways in which district leaders and principals set their fiscal and educational priorities to protect students and families, while adapting to harsh and uncertain conditions.

We also discovered a variety of organizational and pedagogical innovations, supported by federal and state dollars, including digitally enhanced teaching, hiring of new staff (teachers and instructional aides), newfound attention to the holistic well-being of students, deeper ties with parents and even rethinking the school day. The district leaders and principals, interviewed over a 16-month period, expressed distinct interest in sustaining many innovations, while expressing skepticism over the state’s new initiatives – faced with an uncertain fiscal future, shaky enrollment levels, and fragile teacher morale after a grueling two years.

Moving forward, this report delineates a variety of institutional practices or mediators that may help to explain whether and when sizable infusions of new dollars enable schools to recover “lost learning” and narrow persisting disparities in student achievement. How California districts labor to recover from the pandemic and renew teaching and learning is the tandem focus of our long-term study."

Public Policy Institute of California
Bruce Fuller and Karina Du
Date Display
January 2023