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Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd: Candid, Constructive Conversations Are Long Overdue. It Is Time for Action.

In today’s Federal Flash, we pay tribute to the life of George Floyd and countless others whose killings show how much more must be done to address systemic racism in our country. We’ll also share new recommendations for prioritizing equity in the response to COVID-19 as well as several items from the U.S. Department of Education (ED).

Our Voices Must Be Heard

We at the Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed) are outraged by the horrific killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless others. So much more must be done to end the ongoing fatal police shootings and other violence against Black people across the country. In a statement, Deb Delisle, president and CEO of All4Ed, said, “Candid, constructive conversations are long overdue; it is time for action. We at the Alliance for Excellent Education stand with those calling for justice and change in this country: our voices must be heard. We know students of color are disproportionately impacted by violence and trauma with a direct impact on students’ learning and well-being both in and out of school. I hope this unrest brings renewed attention to the differences between life’s realities for White people and people of color, along with the courage to create lasting change.” 

All4Ed joined organizations nationwide to bring attention to the trauma this violence causes young people. All4Ed also joined more than 400 civil rights organizations, led by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, in calling for Congressional action to end police violence.

Recommendations for Prioritizing Equity During COVID-19

All4Ed and thirteen other education and civil rights organizations issued recommendations to states and districts for prioritizing equity in the ongoing response to COVID-19. The report, Coronavirus and the Classroom, covers six topics: (1) ensuring equity in fiscal policies; (2) meeting students’ basic needs; (3) expanding and improving remote learning; (4) easing the high school–to–college transition; (5) extending learning time; and (6) determining students’ academic, social, and emotional needs.

In a statement, Janet Murguía, president and CEO of UnidosUS, said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the lives of students and families across the country, but it is among our most vulnerable students, including our nation’s 5 million English learners and low-income students, where the educational impact and barriers to learning have been far more acute. It is critical, then, that states and districts take steps that safeguard the academic success of all students during this time. These recommendations are a good foundation for states to build on and put students on a path to success in the upcoming school year.”

CARES Act Funding for Private Schools

Tensions also are running high in response to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos’s interpretation of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act as it relates to private schools. Secretary DeVos is calling on states to send millions of dollars from the CARES Act to private schools based on what many believe to be a flawed reading of the law.

As we described in a previous episode of the Federal Flash, DeVos issued guidance to states regarding a policy called “equitable services.” Under Title I of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), children who are at-risk academically and who live in Title I school attendance areas, but enroll in private schools, are entitled to receive “equitable services” from their local public school district such as tutoring and expanded learning time programs.

To be clear, these services are provided to a narrow segment of students—those who are at-risk academically and who live in Title I school attendance areas. The CARES Act says that equitable services should be provided in the same manner as under ESSA. Rather than supporting this same population of students, Secretary DeVos has decided to interpret the law differently. She believes that because the CARES Act is broader than Title I and is intended to serve all public school students, not just those who are from low-income families, the same principle should apply to private schools.

Needless to say, many many people disagree with Secretary DeVos. The National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers; the national organizations representing chief state school officers, school superintendents, principals, and school board members; and certainly we here at All4Ed fall into this camp. Perhaps more importantly, at least eight states have said they will not be following ED’s interpretation of the law.

For right now, states are not technically required to do so because ED has only issued guidance, which does not carry the weight of law. However, Secretary DeVos has said she plans to issue a regulation, which could change things substantially because regulations are binding and would force states to follow her interpretation. That said, if Congress passes new COVID-19 legislation, it’s likely Congress will clarify this policy. The Health and Emergency Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act passed by the House does just that. The Republican chairman of the Senate education committee, Lamar Alexander (R-TN), has said he would like to clarify this in legislation as well. We’ll keep you posted.

ED Approves States Perkins Plans

Before we leave you today, we have just a few other items. First, ED has approved plans to implement the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V) for fifteen states. ED also issued new guidance on services for English learners during the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, ED has received all of the applications from governors for the $3 billion provided by the CARES Act to help governors support education in response to the pandemic. Those applications will be made public soon.

This blog post represents a slightly edited transcript of the June 4 episode of Federal Flash, All4Ed’s video series on important developments in education policy in Washington, DC. For an alert when the next episode of Federal Flash is available, email