The COVID-19 crisis has disrupted education for all students, but has hit students from vulnerable and systemically neglected populations — students living in poverty, students with disabilities, students learning English, students experiencing homelessness, students in the foster care system, students who are incarcerated, undocumented students, Black and Brown students, Native students, and students who identify as LGBTQ — hardest. Beyond interruptions to instruction, many of these students face food insecurity, unreliable access to remote learning technology, reduced access to student supports and education services, and housing uncertainty. Racial inequities caused by long-standing racial violence and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic cause further stress and anxiety for students of color and expose some of the additional daily challenges they face.
In response to these crises, the federal government is providing an additional $125 billion to states and school districts through the American Recovery Plan Act (ARP). ARP requires states and school districts to use at least 5% and 20% of the funding they receive, respectively, to implement evidence-based interventions to address unfinished learning and to address students’ academic, social, and emotional needs. This package includes $3 billion for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and $800 million for supporting students experiencing homelessness, which state leaders must use to support these student groups (along with other federal and state funding which can — and should — be used for this purpose as well). The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has already begun sending these resources out. In April, ED released a state application for the remaining funds.
This unprecedented investment in education provides states and school districts with a chance to close opportunity gaps that existed prior to COVID-19. For perspective, the total investment in K-12 schools through ARP, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act in April 2020, and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act in December 2020, is nearly twice the $100 billion that was invested in schools through the 2009 American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to address the impacts of the Great Recession. ARP provides thousands of dollars of additional support per student across many states.
State leaders must target these new resources to the students who need it most, and leverage this federal investment to drive significant change in our education system. Stakeholders, including students, families, community members, educators, and advocates, should remain vigilant to ensure these funds are not just used to do more of the same that would lead back to a world of “pre-COVID” inequity.
We provide these state recommendations as a collaboration of nine organizations seeking to advance educational equity. Specifically, we are focused on policy that transforms systems to better serve and support improved outcomes for our most vulnerable students.