Rees: Congress Acted Quickly To Pass The Stimulus. Now It Needs To Make Sure The Education Funding Goes Where It’s Needed Most
Rees: Congress Acted Quickly to Pass the Stimulus. Now It Needs to Make Sure the Education Funding Goes Where It’s Needed Most
Throughout the duration of the coronavirus crisis, the education community has been a beacon of hope. Educators are working tirelessly to ensure that their students stay connected and continue learning. Despite facing their own challenges, schools are going above and beyond by providing meals to families in need and donating supplies to hospitals and senior centers to help alleviate shortages. In a time where inspiration is crucial, educators are certainly stepping up to the plate.
In addition, policymakers have taken significant action. Congress and President Trump have swiftly approved approximately $2.3 trillion in relief funds to support individuals, businesses, communities, families, and schools affected by the devastating impact of the coronavirus.
The latest bill includes $13.5 billion specifically allocated to assist K-12 schools, as well as $14.25 billion to support colleges and universities. Furthermore, governors have access to an additional $3 billion to allocate towards education in their respective states. There will also be a substantial amount of funding directed towards nutrition and community wellness initiatives that directly impact students and families.
The current challenge lies in distributing these funds efficiently, effectively, and equitably. This responsibility falls on both federal agencies and governors. Additionally, schools are encountering issues that will need to be addressed by Congress in future legislation. Here are five actions policymakers can take to support students and families in the coming weeks and months.
Firstly, the $13.5 billion emergency funding for K-12 education passed by Congress will be distributed to states and subsequently allocated to Local Education Agencies (LEAs) based on the formula that guides Title I funding. Districts and schools that typically receive Title I funds should expect to receive around 80 percent more funding this year. Charter schools operating as their own LEAs will receive guaranteed funding, while those overseen by school districts will depend on their districts for financial support. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and governors should encourage districts to make decisions solely based on the best interests of students, disregarding differences in school models.
Secondly, governors have access to $3 billion in discretionary funding that can be utilized across the entire educational spectrum. It is crucial for governors to carefully consider where these funds can make the most significant impact, which is likely to be low-income communities that consistently struggle to secure adequate funding. Children in these marginalized communities are at a higher risk of experiencing learning setbacks due to the current crisis. Directing additional funding towards supporting these children academically and socially will yield long-term benefits.
Thirdly, it is time to foster creativity. The new congressional funding for nutrition assistance explicitly urges the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop demonstration projects for distributing food. Some schools have already taken the initiative to do this within their communities. The USDA should continue to promote collaboration between schools and innovative food assistance programs. Additional funds allocated for child care, Development Block Grants, and Head Start will also enable more children in need, especially those seeking summer learning opportunities, to receive assistance. Given that schools are already providing aid to these children on a daily basis, it would be wise for government agencies and community organizations to partner with schools in reaching out to children and families.
Fourthly, the U.S. Department of Education and state governments must work together to expedite the distribution of funds to communities. While I understand their commitment to this cause, bureaucratic obstacles can hinder the process. Any applications required to receive aid from the federal government or states should be simplified, and approvals should be granted promptly. Furthermore, the federal government should clarify that emergency funds can cover immediate expenses incurred by schools, not solely those that arise after application approval.
Lastly, the duration of this crisis remains uncertain. Future legislation aimed at revitalizing the economy should include solutions to address the challenges faced by schools and students. For instance, the lack of internet access and computers is hindering the learning progress of vulnerable students. Although some of the new K-12 crisis funding can be used to address technology-related issues, the scale of the problem is immense and will persist even after students return to classrooms. Congress must address this technology gap, which has become the primary obstacle in the ongoing fight for educational equity.
Furthermore, states are projected to experience significant declines in revenue due to a plummeting economy and delayed or absent tax payments. Students should not suffer the consequences of unexpected and uncontrollable revenue declines. While the full extent of the economic damage is still unclear, both the federal government and states must begin exploring strategies to ensure that temporary revenue declines do not impact education spending in future school years. Schools will require more, not less, funding to recover from the educational setbacks students are currently facing this spring.
Nina Rees serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, a prominent organization that promotes and advocates for charter schools in the United States.
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