The COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating effects on our society. In addition to presenting new challenges, the pandemic has exacerbated existing educational inequities for students of color, those with disabilities, those from households with low incomes and those experiencing homelessness.
Staying true to our mission, IDRA continues to advocate educational equity in all responses to COVID-19 that affect our K-12 schools and institutions of higher education. Public K-12 schools must receive outstanding support in this critical moment. As we face uncertain changes in public school operations, instruction and funding through the foreseeable future, IDRA proposes the policies below to preserve and promote educational equity.*
Here you can find:
- Policies to Support Learning through Summer and the 2020-21 School Year
- Budget and Policy Information for School Districts in State Legislative Sessions
- Linked Resources and Tools for Ensuring Equity in COVID-19 Responses
IDRA staff are available to advise and assist your school district or local education agency (LEA) to ensure equity during and after COVID-19. To learn more, please contact Deputy Director of Policy, Chloe Latham Sikes, Ph.D., at firstname.lastname@example.org or Regional Director of Policy and Community Engagement, Terrence Wilson, J.D., M.P.A., at email@example.com.
The IDRA EAC-South is also available for technical assistance requests.
See this guide in Spanish, Garantizar la equidad educativa durante y después de COVID-19.
*This site is a living document and will continue to be updated according to health guidance, policy changes and research.
Section 1: Policies to Support Learning in the 2020-21 School Year
Phase I: Preparing for the 2020-21 year
Students, families and teachers have immediate needs that must be met through as the new school year starts. The “summer slide” (students’ loss of academic knowledge and gains from the previous year) already affects marginalized students most intensely, and experts predict it will be worse this year.
To mitigate academic and social losses for students and work toward educational equity as we enter this school year, IDRA recommends the following.
Additional funds and resources should be channeled to face pandemic-related issues
• Funnel CARES Act and other federal stimulus funding toward the K-12 settings that serve high populations of marginalized students. States should maintain previous methods of calculating levels of funding for equitable services for private schools under Title I-A of ESSA.
• Use federal and state stimulus funds for device and connection support for students.
• Leverage resources to sustain educational and student service provisions as much as possible, including academic instruction, meals, health services, social-emotional learning practices, and other educational opportunities.
• Invest in additional mental health professionals, including counselors and social workers. It is more important than ever to achieve recommended ratios and even go beyond in order to address the unique trauma and needs of students, families and school staff. Additional professionals also can help to maintain contact with families during school closures.
• Distribute additional materials and connectivity resources via schools and institutions of higher education to enhance students’ and families’ digital access and literacy – or their knowledge of effectively using digital devices and connections. All materials should be available in families’ first language to aid at-home instruction.
• Ensure emergency funds (state and federal) are used to address schools’ virus-related needs that arise and supplement not supplant basic education funding. States and local education agencies should continue a maintenance of effort for school funding and use additional funds for additional challenges. School districts that do not have additional resources to address unanticipated COVID-19 related needs should be not penalized with a subsequent funding shortage.
School districts should develop support systems for students’ academic, social and emotional needs.
• Develop small committees that include a counselor, social worker or family liaison who can ensure that the particular social circumstances of the family are taken into account in some way when determining the needs of the student. These committees can assess a student’s individualized circumstances and target appropriate supports, resources and materials to mitigate the academic “summer slide” and corresponding “COVID slide.”
• Expand use of formative assessment systems (such as individual graduation committees in Texas). Formative assessments measure student progress over time and consider a variety of factors to determine course mastery. These assessments are particularly important to track learning when state assessments are canceled and with the use of digital learning platforms due to COVID-19. Generally, using a single test to determine student achievement or advancement harms students and teachers and does not accurately measure success or address learning needs.
• Involve families and other stakeholders in decisions about uses of funds through surveys, meetings, etc. Use family support specialists for this purpose.
• Encourage peer-to-peer mentoring and cross-age tutoring programs among students. These programs can encourage community bonds while using young adults’ digital skills to build academic relationships. Programs can be monitored by teachers and other educational personnel.
Educators should maintain high academic expectations for students that prepare them for college admission, enrollment and success.
• Work together with K-12 schools and institutions of higher education to heighten college counseling and enrollment information for students and families. Schools should frequently update online information and communications about college admission requirements, how to secure transcripts and teacher letters of recommendation, COVID-19-related adjustments, and financial aid and scholarships.
• Institutions of higher education must make fall 2020, spring 2021, summer 2021 and fall 2021 admissions information easily accessible for prospective students. College admissions tests (SAT and ACT) should remain optional admission criteria given the changes in test administration and access to testing.
• Develop, refine and maintain open platforms of communication with students and families to alleviate confusion and be responsive to emergent needs and concerns. Online platforms should be coupled with robust in-person outreach, particularly with families and students that districts have struggled to reach. Districts should communicate the following information:
- Students must be advised to access rigorous college preparatory coursework in high school and enhance instructional support so that students can succeed in those courses.
- Schools should provide supportive behavioral practices for families conducting home instruction at this time.
- Counselors should provide comprehensive resource information (community-based and online resources, food sites, etc.).
• Ensure school district implementation of digital instruction is as comprehensive as possible to respond to the pandemic. Yet school districts and state education agencies should prioritize supports for in-person public education settings (not virtual charters or private options, etc.).
• Expand access to afterschool learning and compensatory services.
• Ensure postsecondary students can maintain their earned course credits and financial aid awards for the academic year.
• Provide timely updates to students and alumni with federal loans about loan forgiveness, forbearance and other adjustments to their loans in light of COVID-19.
State agencies and educators should prioritize students’ safety, privacy and well-being.
• Provide sufficient personal protective equipment for all students, teachers, and staff on school campuses.
• Ensure supervisors of juvenile justice facilities and residential treatment centers, including county facilities, halfway houses, and other residential arrangements for youth, provide students consistent and appropriate access to education plans. This may include the individual tutoring, distribution of devices and other educational supports to ensure youth continue their educations with minimal disruption.
• Adhere any moves to online delivery of instructional content, exam administration and other student interactions to privacy protections under FERPA and best practice guidelines.
• Establish state agency and educator protocols to perform periodic, comprehensive local needs assessments to assess the safety, privacy and well-being needs of local students and families.
• Manage and store student data carefully. Data uses that jeopardize student privacy or risk marginalizing students should be prohibited.
Phase II: Starting the 2020-21 School Year
Schools will need to manage the continuing impacts of COVID-19. In order to begin the 2020-21 school year more prepared to ensure educational equity, IDRA recommends the following.
States and school districts should ensure the legal education protections for students and begin the year with attention to students’ ongoing and arising needs.
• Maintain students’ civil rights and meet educational needs, without excessive waivers, including for special education services (IDEA and Section 504), bilingual education, and McKinney-Vento policies. Develop systems for initial and continued assessments of needs and learning:
- Schools must take steps to assess student progress (without high-stakes elements) following distance learning and the summer break and their academic needs upon the reopening of schools. These assessments should not lead to tracking students into less rigorous college preparatory coursework.
- Districts must continue formative learning assessments at frequent intervals, made by small committees of teachers, counselors and other educational specialists.
- Districts must use formative assessments to provide appropriate services and make appropriate program placement decisions for students, particularly for students with disabilities and English learners.
• Increase the number of counselors and social workers on staff to meet recommended student-to-professional ratios and exceed recommended ratios where possible. Ensure these professionals are involved in family engagement efforts, discipline systems, and in reopening conversations to ensure a trauma-informed approach to all aspects of learning and teaching. All professionals should conduct authentic two-way communication and dialogues with families.
• Provide training on trauma-informed practices to teachers and school staff so that they are prepared to support students and families during at-home learning and upon return to school.
• Ensure teachers and other school staff receive supports, including mental health care, while schools are closed and after they reopen.
• District leaders must receive training on embedding racial equity in their policy responses.
State legislators and state education agencies should support districts to continue distance-learning and enhance resources to ensure all students and their families are contacted and students have access to education and support.
• Address the digital divide through promoting internet access as a utility necessary for healthy and efficient living and learning. Rural areas and low-income neighborhoods have particularly urgent connectivity needs. Along with connectivity, all students should have access to appropriate equipment and tools in the home.
• Provide training via school districts in online learning platforms, technological learning and other support for distance-learning formats.
• Take extraordinary steps to ensure direct, two-way communication with families. Along with personal conversations with students, it is vitally important to include parents, caretakers and older siblings in the communication chain. While protecting privacy, cell-phone communication should be central because those are the most common instruments available to most families.
• Support accelerated teacher certification programs to address shortages, like IDRA’s Transition to Teaching program.
• Protect and increase weighted student-based funding in school finance formulas, particularly for vulnerable student populations such as English learners, students with disabilities and students from low-income households. These weights should be based on updated cost studies that account for the needs of a diverse set of students and that account for COVID-19 and other new related costs.
• Any additional formula funding and emergency funding, particularly for special student populations, must be subject to accountability and transparency rules, including rules and requirements related to yearly independent audits.
• Ensure states’ budget decisions regarding existing and supplemental funds in response to COVID-19 is up-to-date according to today’s costs for providing adequate and equitable public education.
• Ensure states maintain constitutional responsibilities to substantially fund public schools to provide adequate and equitable public education. This means that states contribute more than 55% of the funding for public education. School districts, which are suffering from the economic impacts of the public health crisis, should not feel forced to tax residents just to meet basic educational needs.
States and school districts should focus efforts on sustaining public schools.
• Consider an extended school year for the 2020-21 academic calendar to support students. States should aid this with appropriate funding.
• Implement a moratorium on charter expansion and private operators of public schools; all resources should be focused on supporting and reinvigorating public schools following COVID-19 response.
• Suspend punishing school rating systems, such as A-F accountability ratings, for school districts and campuses through at least the 2021-22 academic year in favor of more meaningful accountability systems. For instance, in Texas, with the STAAR suspension for spring 2020 and a patchwork of scheduled closures and responses among Texas school districts given the lack of statewide uniform action, school districts are unable to effectively plan for the 2020-21 school year. This renders accountability ratings for both the 2019-20 and 2020-21 academic years impossible to accurately and fairly assess.
• Provide schools in turnaround status continued support and do not penalize them based on changing timelines for improvement plans. Any plans that would lead to extreme consequences – such as state takeovers by education agencies or private management of public schools – should be paused to allow those schools to respond to the ramifications COVID-19 without fear of high-stakes consequences.
Section 2: Preparing for State Legislative Sessions
Phase I: Ensuring equity in local and state budgets
The pandemic has suffocated the economy and thrown the country into an economic decline. Nevertheless, students should not pay the price with their educations. To address tightened budgets, IDRA recommends the following.
• Avoid across-the-board cuts to education and health services.
• Use state Economic Stabilization Funds (or “Rainy Day Funds”) to stabilize school district funding for COVID-19 related expenditures.
• Identify and develop new revenue-generating mechanisms for state budgets, such as restoring the franchise tax previous levels and implementing taxes on more services.
• Increase resources for family support personnel and programs, including parent support specialists and family liaisons.
• Allocate funds to train, attract and retain teachers to fill teacher shortages, which are likely to increase. Specifically, schools often lack sufficient bilingual education and special education teachers. Providing support for grow-your-own programs helps increase local teacher workforces.
• Prioritize equity as school districts realign their budgets to meet students’ needs and address the impact of the pandemic on their local communities.
Phase II: Preventing future massive disruptions to student learning
The pandemic has made clear that our schools are vulnerable to massive disruptions due to unanticipated public health and natural disasters. We must strengthen our public education system to survive future events without massive disruptions to student learning. To accomplish this, IDRA recommends the following.
States should implement safeguards for students who may be most affected by educational disruptions.
• Avoid any state or local cuts to bilingual/ESL education programs, special education, pre-kindergarten and any other instructional programs that directly affect students.
• Direct state allotted and emergency funds to students in public school districts and prevent the flow of public dollars to private entities that capitalize on times of crisis. This includes disallowing vouchers, expanded education savings accounts and tax credits, privately individualized “microgrants,” skewed equitable service provisions, and any other mechanism that diverts public funds from public school students.
• Enable districts to reallocate local funding toward staff and resources that help children to be safer and healthier in schools. This includes increasing counseling staff, social workers, nurses, and other parent and family support staff.
• Local funds can be reallocated from other departments that do not immediately support students’ well-being or academic success, such as police.
States and school districts should develop equitable practices, policies and training for all teachers, staff and district personnel and representatives.
• Adopt school board racial equity resolutions and embed their components in their strategic plans to ensure that all district operations prioritize racial equity. The pandemic and recent demonstrations against racism and police violence highlight longstanding racial inequities in our society. Racial equity policies that contain clear policy directives and implications for district practices help to center racial equity in district governance, policy review, and practices ranging from personnel and budgeting to curriculum and community engagement.
• Make sure superintendent and district administrator emergency response plans include updated contact information and communication methods for every enrolled student in the district and identify those most likely to be displaced or otherwise affected by an instructional interruption.
• Guide district policies and procedures to prioritize equity in their guidelines and instructions to school districts. This might include: suspending disciplinary practices and punitive consequences for students; enhancing data management systems to protect student data in virtual and in-person educational settings; bolstering parent and community engagement efforts to ensure outreach to 100% of enrolled students’ families; conducting needs analyses on a regular basis; adopting ethnic studies courses; implementing regular equity training at all personnel levels.
Texas Comptroller (2019). Texas’ Digital Divide. https://comptroller.texas.gov/economy/fiscal-notes/2019/oct/divide.php