The Education Trust’s Recommendations for Ensuring Equity in Education in the Midst of COVID-19
When responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the first consideration must always be the safety and health of everyone in the country. As an education civil rights organization, Ed Trust recognizes that America’s most underserved students are at particular risk while many school buildings are still closed. Recently, we’ve learned that as many as 3 million children could have gone without any education since most of the country shut down in March – truly a lost generation of students who deserve better.
As a country, we must consider how we can ensure students, educators, school staff, and their families are prioritized as we consider the safest, most equitable ways to reopen schools. School closures due to the pandemic, although unquestionably necessary to protect public health, have had a disparate impact on students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, students with disabilities, and English learners. Underserved students have disproportionately experienced less access to devices and to internet service, teachers less support around online learning in under-resourced districts, parents less able to telework and support their learning during the day, and more socioemotional stressors. Despite the heroic efforts of many educators, many students and families have not received the academic or socioemotional support they need.
Here are five things we as a nation need to do to ensure an equitable education for all students, especially students of color:
Increase federal investment in education. State and local education budgets have been — and will continue to be — devastated by the loss of tax revenue. Without Congressional action, there will be no way to avoid layoffs and hiring freezes disproportionately impacting educators and staff at high-poverty schools, and many places won’t be able to meet the public health requirements to ensure a safe re-opening of school buildings.
Ensure states and districts do not walk away from the students who have been hit hardest by this crisis. New federal stimulus funding should include a strong maintenance of effort provision and add a maintenance of equity provision to apply to both states and districts. Together, these requirements would maintain education spending at the same percentage of state spending as before the pandemic and shield the highest-need schools and districts from the worst cuts.
Ensure distance learning is possible for every student. Before the pandemic, 79 percent of White households had broadband access, compared with only 66 percent of Black families and 61 percent of Hispanic families. The lack of equitable access to broadband is not only an immediate distance learning issue and an obstacle to effective implementation of hybrid models this fall, but also an emergency preparedness issue in the event of further widespread closures. To ensure home access to broadband for students is possible, Congress should allocate at least $4 billion to the FCC’s E-Rate program to provide hotspots and devices for students who require them.
Help schools and teachers address the significant learning loss caused by the pandemic. Congress should allocate dedicated funds to help schools add more learning time, such as through summer school, an extended school day or school year, or afterschool programming.
Address students’ nutritional, social, emotional, and mental health needs. Congress must extend and expand the Pandemic EBT program to enable more children to receive meals while not in school, and ensure students’ and educators’ socioemotional and mental health needs are met through funding additional counselors and other mental health professionals in schools.
We must also work to address systemic racism and bias for students who are living with the continued reality of racism in America and the legacy of over 400 years of anti-Blackness. At Ed Trust, we have put out research and guides on school discipline and socioemotional learning that seeks to point out systemic injustice in schools and districts that too often impacts students of color living in a country that too often still struggles to recognize their humanity.
As students begin gradually returning to school buildings, they will have had vastly different school and life experiences with inequities further exacerbated by the health and economic crises. We have the public health data to help drive decision making on when students should begin to return to school buildings, and now, we need to target the appropriate resources and supports to help students, educators, and school staff recover and prevent any further widening of inequities.
Learn more about The Education Trust at www.edtrust.org. See a study conducted by Ed Trust on racial disparities in educational achievements in Maryland at education.www.bcf.org/ed-trust-report.