Below is a log of IDRA’s policy updates for schools regarding COVID-19. We release a new policy update each week in our Learning Goes On eNews (sign up free) in English and Spanish.

Also see our new Policy Primer: Ensuring Education Equity During and After COVID-19, IDRA’s living document listing policies to preserve and promote educational equity:

  • 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

See the guide in Spanish, Garantizar la equidad educativa durante y después de COVID-19.

See Spanish version

Policy News Stories

  • U.S. Dept of Education Releases New COVID-19 School Guidance
  • Six Ways the New COVID Relief Plan will Impact Schools
  • National – New CDC Guidelines
  • Texas – STAAR News
  • If Teachers Controlled the Education Budget
  • New COVID-19 Emergency Relief Package
  • Possible Additions to the Federal Government’s COVID-19 Emergency Plan
  • Biden-Harris Administration’s Education Priorities
  • Effective School Assessments and Accountability that Does Not Hurt Students
  • Families Share Insights on Young Emergent Bilingual Children to Inform Policy & Practice
  • Reopening Presents Opportunities for Innovation and Collaboration throughout the South
  • Serving English Learners During COVID-19 – School Leadership and Teacher Support
  • Maintaining a Supportive School Climate
  • Building Trust through Authentic Communication
  • Federal Court Strikes Down Department of Education Rule Requiring Public School Districts to Give More Relief Funds to Private Schools
  • Texas-focused Education Equity Groups Support Lawsuit Challenging U.S. Department of Education Rule that Shifts Relief Funds from Public Schools to Private Schools
  • Family Engagement is Key to Student Safety Amidst COVID-19 Reopening
  • An Equity-focused Plan for Reopening Schools Safely
  • Video Spotlight on the Rules for Reopening Texas Schools
  • IDRA Releases Guide to Ensuring Education Equity During and After COVID-19
  • State Reopening Guidance Must Prioritize Equity
  • How School Districts and Communities Can Plan Safe Learning Environments
  • Schools Face Challenges to Reopening – Community Input and Supplemental Funds Are Critical
  • U.S. Department of Education Affirms Intent to Exclude Undocumented Students from CARES Act Relief Funds
  • COVID-19 Federal Guidance Documents Impact Schools and Communities
  • IDRA Statement in Support of Black Lives
  • What We are Hearing from Families, Students and Educators: Part I
  • Without Intervention, COVID-19-Induced Budgetary Shortfalls Will Fall Hardest on Marginalized Students in the South
  • COVID-19 Does Not Change Civil Rights Protections for Students
  • IDRA Joins Counselors in Calling for COVID-19 Responses that Include Trauma-Informed Support
  • COVID-19 Worsens Systemic Educational Inequity
  • Public School Advocates Join Forces to Push for Emergency Funding Equity
    U.S. Department of Education Announces Rules for Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Funding
  • Update: The CARES Act and Federal COVID-19 Actions
  • Equity Concerns for English Learners in Response to COVID-19
  • Students in Southern States Face Short- and Long-Term COVID-19 Challenges
  • An Overview of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act
  • Texas Colleges Respond to COVID-19
  • Testing for Students in Texas & Equity Implications

April 16, 2021 Edition

U.S. Dept of Education Releases New COVID-19 School Guidance

This month, the U.S. Department of Education released its second handbook of recommendations for how schools across the country can safely re-open for in-person learning and meet students’ needs. The first handbook, released in March 2021, focused on the school health-related safety protocols issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The second handbook, ED COVID-19 Handbook – Roadmap to Reopening Safely and Meeting All Students’ Needs, includes recommendations on creating safe and healthy learning environments, addressing lost instructional time, and supporting educator and staff stability and well-being.

Creating Safe and Healthy Learning Environments

In addition to following physical safety protocols, the U.S. Department of Education recommends schools work to do the following to create safe and healthy learning environments.

  • Meet the basic needs of students, including by providing meals to students in all educational settings during the school year and the summer. This requires understanding community needs through surveys and other family engagement processes and responding appropriately with distribution sites and plans.
  • Meet the social, emotional and mental health needs of students, including those from historically-marginalized student populations who may be experiencing the unique trauma of homelessness or involvement in the foster care or juvenile legal systems. The guidance urges schools to ensure access to professionals like counselors, social workers and psychologists and to use research-based practices that focus on building relationships, strengthening family and student engagement, and creating culturally-sustaining learning environments.
  • Provide all students with safe and inclusive schools that focus on developing response plans and building strong relationships, especially with chronically absent and “disengaged” students.

Addressing Lost Instructional Time

Without immediate interventions, lost instructional time could have a profound impact on many students. The handbook recommends that schools implement programs focused on accelerated instruction, tutoring and expanded learning time including out-of-school programs and summer learning.

These approaches, which can be used in combination, require teacher training in new teaching strategies, the use of data and diagnostic and formative assessments that enable teachers to respond to learning needs over time, and robust student engagement strategies. The handbook lists the characteristics of evidence-based and effective programs so that schools can evaluate and create options in their own communities.

Recommendations across programs include ensuring strong relationship-building between students and adults, creating opportunities for shared decision-making for using resources, using data that shed light on diverse measures of student access to their schools, and incorporating effective technology strategies that account for differences in access to reliable Internet connection, devices and user knowledge. The handbook also focuses on the importance of addressing long-standing educational inequities, including in school funding and the distribution of well-qualified teachers.

Supporting Educator and Staff Stability and Well-being

The handbook urges states to address the major issues related to the educator workforce that have been exacerbated by COVID-19. It notes that teacher morale has dropped during the pandemic, leading to fewer well-qualified teachers, particularly for student populations that already experienced teacher shortages or less-experienced educators including emergent bilingual students, students of color and those from families with limited incomes.

The handbook recommends strategies to recruit and retain effective teachers, including through:

  • Identifying more professional development opportunities,
  • Creating teacher partnership programs,
  • Building a group of high-quality substitute teachers, and
  • Implementing flexible teaching schedules to allow for teacher planning and collaboration time.

The handbook also stresses the importance of creating a diverse educator pipeline through grant and scholarship opportunities, teacher residency programs, and “Grow Your Own” programs that support individuals to become teachers and support students in their own communities.

Finally, the handbook stresses that teachers and other staff need the same mental health supports as others who may be experiencing trauma during COVID-19 and urges schools to create support systems that can identify and respond to teacher social, emotional and mental health needs just as they should for students.

IDRA has resources and programs to support schools with many of the recommendations described in the handbook. The IDRA EAC-South provides training and technical supports to schools and education agencies across the U.S. South, usually at no cost, and the IDRA Valued Youth Partnership is a proven cross-age tutoring program that increases attendance and student engagement. Please contact us to learn more about these programs!

March 19, 2021 Edition

Six Ways the New COVID Relief Plan will Impact Schools

Last week, President Biden signed into law the American Rescue Plan Act, the third federal relief package designed to address major financial, health and education needs caused and worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. The law allocates almost $130 billion to K-12 schools and approximately $39 billion to colleges.

Below are six things to know about how that money will be distributed and spent.

 1. Through the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER), state education agencies will receive about $122 billion, which is nearly twice the funding they received from the first two stimulus packages combined. Like the first packages, at least 90% of the funds distributed to state education agencies must then be allocated to local education agencies (school districts and many charter schools) based on Title I formulae, which target funds to districts based on poverty concentration levels.

No more than 10% of the funds can be used by the state education agency for other programs. All school districts and charters that receive funds must publish, within 30 days, a plan to reopen schools and ensure continuity of education. These plans must be open for public comment (unless a similar plan has already been produced by the district or charter).

2. School districts and charter schools that receive funding must use at least 20% of the funds to address learning loss (or instruction disruption). This includes evidence-based strategies like summer learning opportunities, extended-day and extended-year programs, and afterschool programs. These funds must be used to support students’ emotional, social and academic needs with a focus on students who were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. State education agencies also must use at least 5% of their ESSER funds to address learning loss.

 3. The remaining funds received by school districts and charter schools can be used for a wide range of purposes, including the following:

  • Providing mental health supports, including through community schools;
  • Implementing any activity authorized by other major federal education laws, including the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA);
  • Purchasing technology supports and devices;
  • Implementing a valid and reliable assessment system to track student learning;
  • Providing facilities upgrades and sanitation services in schools; and
  • Providing information and assistance to families on how they can support their students while they learn virtually.

 4. Private schools will receive $2.75 billion through the Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools Program distributed by governors. This program is different from the equitable services requirement that required public schools to provide services to private school students and was debated following the passage of the CARES Act.

 5. Colleges must use at least 50% of their funds to provide emergency financial aid grants directly to students in a manner similar to the first emergency relief packages.

6. States and school districts that receive emergency relief funding must adhere to “maintenance of effort” and “maintenance of equity” requirements. Typically, recipients of federal funds must follow maintenance of effort provisions, which prohibit states from unnecessarily reducing their support for public schools as compared to previous years. With this new law, states must maintain their previous financial support of elementary, secondary and postsecondary schools (colleges and universities), including their funding of state need-based financial aid for postsecondary students, unless they receive a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education.

Additionally, states, school districts and charter schools that receive emergency relief funds must follow maintenance of equity provisions that are designed to ensure that any reductions in school funding due to revenue shortfalls do not disproportionately impact schools and districts with high concentrations of poverty. These provisions provide that, in 2022-23:

  • States cannot reduce per-pupil funding in high-need school districts* more than the average reduction for school districts across the state;
  • States cannot reduce per-pupil funding for the highest-poverty school districts** below the amount of per-pupil funding provided to those districts in fiscal year 2019; and
  • Most school districts and charters cannot reduce per-pupil funding or staff in high-poverty schools*** in a manner that disproportionately impacts those schools compared to others in the district.

Other provisions of the Act will impact students and schools, including the expansion of COVID-19 vaccination and testing programs. The expansion of child tax credits, which will come in the form of monthly payments for qualifying families with children, could drastically reduce child poverty and improve outcomes for students and families across the country (Parolin, et al., 2021).

As with each COVID-19 relief package and all education resources, the monies from the American Rescue Plan Act will be most impactful if they are distributed, targeted and tracked in ways that promote equity and focus on historically-marginalized students, including students of color, emergent bilingual students, and students from families with limited incomes.

The state must allocate the funds to school districts within 60 days of the state receiving them. It is crucial that community engagement plays a role in the process to decide how funds are used. To stay involved and up-to-date on state policymaking processes and advocacy opportunities, follow IDRA on social media and sign up for our community engagement resources and advocacy updates Texas Education CAFE Advocacy Network.


* According to the American Rescue Plan Act, high-need school districts are those that “(A) in rank order, have the highest percentages of economically disadvantaged students in the state, on the basis of the most recent satisfactory data available from the U.S. Department of Commerce (or, for local education agencies for which no such data are available, such other data as the U.S. Secretary of Education determines are satisfactory); and (B) collectively serve not less than 50% of the state’s total enrollment of students served by all local educational agencies in the state.”

** According to the American Rescue Plan Act, highest-poverty school districts include those that “(A) in rank order, have the highest percentages of economically disadvantaged students in the state, on the basis of the most recent satisfactory data available from the U.S. Department of Commerce (or, for local educational agencies for which no such data are available, such other data as the U.S. Secretary of Education determines are satisfactory); and (B) collectively serve not less than 20% of the state’s total enrollment of students served by all local education agencies in the State.”

*** According to the American Rescue Plan Act, high-poverty schools are those in the “highest quartile of schools served by such local educational agency based on the percentage of economically disadvantaged students served, as determined by the state…”

Parolin, Z., Collyer, S., Curran, M.A., & Wimer, C. (2021). The Potential Poverty Reduction Effect of the American Rescue Plan, Poverty & Social Policy Fact Sheet. Center on Poverty and Social Policy, Columbia University.

February 12, 2021 Edition

New CDC Guidelines

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued new guidelines today for how schools should operate safely during the pandemic, being careful to note they are not mandating that schools reopen. The “operational strategy” released today includes recommendations for determining the safest learning options for schools (fully in-person, hybrid, fully virtual) based on a four-tier scale that considers the rates of disease transmission in the community.

Additionally, the CDC recommends schools adopt five “layered mitigation” strategies with research-based practices which, in combination, should help to ensure student and staff safety in schools:

  • Universal and correct use of masks, which should be required for all students and staff;
  • Physical distancing of at least six feet, with classes reduced to smaller groups of students, or “pods,” to ensure separation;
  • Hand washing and other respiratory infection prevention procedures;
  • Frequently and thoroughly cleaning school facilities and ensuring effective ventilation systems; and
  • Contact tracing protocols that allow for rapid responses to COVID-19 outbreaks.

Finally, the CDC encouraged states and schools to prioritize teachers and other school staff for vaccinations (though the CDC maintains that not all teachers must be vaccinated for schools to reopen safely). Additionally, schools should facilitate testing and ensure that reopening plans take into account the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on communities of color.

The CDC strategies will be supplemented by a scientific brief by the CDC and a multi-volume handbook with school re-opening and safety recommendations issued by the U.S. Department of Education.

Texas – STAAR News

Texas Education Commissioner Morath spoke with the Texas Tribune about the state of education during the pandemic. He noted that while the state’s assessment, STAAR, would be conducted in-person in order to gather data about student learning, a virtual option would not be offered, and families would not be required to bring their children into schools for testing.

He also shared his thoughts on the best ways to address educational inequities for students of color, including “increasing the rigor of the content students learn, supporting teachers’ professional growth and increasing the length of the school year.” He did not answer whether school funding would be cut due to COVID-19-related dips in student attendance – a concern shared by many school districts and advocates.

See IDRA’s Recommendations for the 87th Legislative Session, including recommendations to extend hold harmless provisions and protect funding for public schools.

If Teachers Controlled the Education Budget

In IDRA’s course at Texas A&M University-Commerce, we asked a group of current and former educators what they would do if they had power over the state’s budget and could direct funds to make the greatest impact for our education system.

Below is what they said and a way for you to share your ideas.

“Oh, how nice this would be: unlimited funding. The power to pass any budget? Wow… I would fund training. This is an all-around training focus. Yes, training for technology that we so desperately needed when schools went online, but also training for career and further education resources along with the salary so that we can fund more counselors.”

“Teachers need resources in their classrooms to be successful. Many teachers do not have adequate resources to teach in the manner they need… Many teachers and students who do have technology do not have the proper training needed to use the technology in the most effective manner. Offering training for teachers and students could benefit everyone in the school community.”

“Family and community engagement opportunities are a great way to build the partnership between the school district, and the community in turn can help the success of the overall school community. By providing resources and training for families, the school district would be gaining the support and trust of those families within the community.”

“More funding for mental health, including SEL [social emotional learning]. Children and adults need to express their concerns.”

“I would increase salaries across-the-board for the industry of education. This industry should be competitive as a necessary and high-priority industry for attracting and retaining valuable members. It would be great if this industry could be one that people move toward because of the good pay.”

“Students, teachers and staff across the state should be given and/or have access to current technologies to help them complete their job requirements. This could work even better if individuals could be given a fund or allocation to spend this money on their specific technology needs. For example, teachers each year should be given an allotment of a minimum of $1,000 to spend on their technology needs for the school year. These funds would help to increase the potential for higher engagement and new instructional techniques where students would greatly benefit. This would need to be a reoccurring fund to keep up with the changes in advancements in technologies.”

“I would spend a significant amount of funding the overall infrastructure for new or renovated campuses and facilities across the state. Campuses are not able to keep up with the advances in technology and other resources that are currently available, and the system is in need of costly repairs just to keep the buildings open. Funding options directed specifically toward the infrastructure of districts could help speed up this process and take the burden off local communities.”

“A lack of broadband connectivity has widened the equity gap throughout the state. Training teachers to properly utilize technology will support the teachers, and students will benefit from a more enriched instructional experience. Working in a safe and healthy environment helps one focus on quality instruction and bridge the socio-emotional support that all students crave: person-to-person interaction.”

“It is well past time to get creative when it comes to fostering active family engagement, especially in critically impacted communities. Investing in schools goes beyond updating infrastructure and resources and moves into the realm of outreach. Would it be easier to get parents in buildings, in classrooms, involved if schools had community use laundry facilities? Or a day care? Or free family breakfast? What if schools also invested in parents and were able to offer a variety of helpful and fun night classes related to the GED or English language instruction or cooking classes or guitar lessons? What if schools also hosted various well-funded and intentionally advertised cultural events and community celebrations?”

“In a world that requires digitally-powered education, our education system is behind the eight ball when it comes to technology. The divide between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ is appalling. But even more appalling is the fact that the technology in the hands of the ‘haves’ is outdated and, in most cases, antiquated. So, the benchmark we are using for a best-case scenario of bridging the digital divide is subpar at best. Educational technology needs an overhaul statewide, at every school, at every level.”

“It’s time schools were staffed in ways that make sense. Students deserve timely and thoughtful feedback along with true data-driven instruction with personalized reteach and enrichment opportunities. At the same time, teachers deserve to have full lives outside of school. Funding could significantly reduce caseloads of teachers and mental health personnel to ensure that students get what they need while their supporting adults don’t struggle with feeling overwhelmed to the point of inadequacy.”

“My first priority will be to establish a comprehensive plan to support school efforts to establish and to provide for a safe, conducive learning environment for all our students. This means [personal protective] equipment (PPE), testing, contact tracing and vaccination. If students are not safe, it is harder for students to learn. Children whose learning has been disrupted from areas that are especially hit hard by the pandemic, like Laredo, Texas, or Los Angeles, are poised to observe significant learning losses. Getting a handle on the pandemic should, therefore, be a top priority.”

In IDRA’s course through Texas A&M University-Commerce, we are supporting the development of scholar/educator advocates who can understand and influence state policymaking. These students are helping us to examine and refine our own policy positions and how they impact schools.

Do you have ideas for how you would spend funds on public schools? Share them with the hashtag: #WhatSchoolsNeed.

January 21, 2021 Edition

Federal Education Policy Update

by Morgan Craven, J.D.

This week’s inauguration marked the official transition of power to President Biden and the beginning of new priorities in the U.S. Department of Education. Below we provide updates in three critical areas of federal education policy:

  • the impacts of the most recent COVID-19 emergency relief package;
  • likely additions to the government’s COVID-19 emergency response plan; and
  • the education priorities put forth by the new Biden-Harris administration.

New COVID-19 Emergency Relief Package

In December 2020 the U.S. Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, which includes the second COVID-19 emergency relief package. The CARES Act in March 2020 provided $13 billion to K-12 schools and $14 billion to institutions of higher education. The new package allocates education funds for distribution through governors, state education agencies, and institutions of higher education. The major education-related portions of the aid package include the following.

  • About $54 billion for K-12 schools through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER), most of which will be distributed to local education agencies (e.g., school districts) by each state’s education agency. This funding will be distributed in amounts proportional to districts’ Title I funding, which is based on the proportion of students from families with limited incomes.

Three new allowable expenses for the K-12 funds were added to those enumerated in the CARES Act. Schools can now use emergency funds to improve and update facilities to reduce the spread of the virus and to improve air quality in school buildings. They also can use the funds to address student learning loss, including costs associated with administering assessments, providing individualized instruction, implementing evidence-based strategies to meet student needs, providing assistance to families to support students during distance learning, and tracking student attendance and engagement in distance learning.

  • About $4 billion for governors to spend on education priorities in their states, including emergency support for school districts, colleges and universities, and other education agencies most impacted by COVID-19. This fund includes up to $2.75 billion for distribution to private schools.
  • Nearly $23 billion for colleges and universities, which must distribute at least half of funds directly to students in the form of individual emergency aid.

Possible Additions to the Federal Government’s COVID-19 Emergency Plan

Students and schools need far more federal support than the CARES Act and second relief package provide. President Biden has already released his $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan,” detailing what immediate COVID-19 and long-term health and economic recovery should look like.

One of President Biden’s major priorities is to re-open the majority of K-12 schools in the first 100 days of his term, including through a national program to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine, provide paid sick leave, address rampant health disparities, and ensure regular testing protocols in schools.

He also proposes to allocate $170 billion to K-12 schools and colleges, including $130 billion for safe school reopening. These funds would be used to support reduced class sizes, implement cleaning and ventilation upgrades, hire counselors and nurses, provide summer learning supports, expand community schools, prevent state cuts to pre-K programs, and address the digital divide, among other uses.

A portion of these funds also would be used for “COVID-19 Educational Equity Challenge Grants,” which will support governmental partnerships with teachers, families and others “to advance equity- and evidence-based policies to respond to COVID-related educational challenges and give all students the support they need to succeed.” For information about equity-focused resources for schools, families, and other education-focused groups, see the IDRA EAC-South website.

The proposed American Rescue Plan also includes $35 billion for colleges, including up to $1,700 for direct financial assistance to individual students and $5 billion for governors to allocate to education programs and students hardest hit by COVID-19.

Biden-Harris Administration’s Education Priorities

President Biden’s American Rescue Plan is a COVID-19-focused supplement to the education agenda from his campaign, which includes proposals to triple Title I funding for schools that serve high concentrations of students from families with limited incomes; makes major investments in institutions of higher education particularly community colleges, minority-serving institutions, and historically Black colleges and universities; and takes steps like increasing the numbers of counselors and other health professionals in schools to tackle practices that create harmful school climates.

While his initial campaign platform lacked certain critical elements that many education equity advocates hoped for (including how to improve educational opportunities for English learners), subsequent policy statements indicate a broader education agenda that many hope will be responsive to both COVID-19 needs and the systemic inequities felt most by historically-marginalized students. To execute this agenda, President Biden nominated Dr. Miguel Cardona for U.S. Secretary of Education.

Among its other duties, the U.S. Department of Education must fulfill its obligation to protect students’ civil rights. There is much to do to implement needed reforms and reverse policies of the last four years that compromised equal access to education for millions of students, particularly students of color, LGBTQ students, English learners, immigrant students and many others.

For more information about IDRA’s federal education policy recommendations, please see our letter to the Biden-Harris transition team and our recommendations for federal COVID-19 relief funding, or contact Morgan Craven, J.D., IDRA’s National Director of Policy, Advocacy and Community Engagement at

December 10, 2020 Edition

Effective School Assessments and Accountability that Does Not Hurt Students

by Dr. Chloe Latham Sikes

Accurate, valid data on student learning provide a crucial metric for how students, educators, and school leadership have navigated learning and instruction during any normal school year. While there is much work to be done to improve our system of assessing learning, the data we get can help to ensure that no group of students is denied equal access to education.

COVID-19 has presented additional challenges to assessing teaching and learning, requiring states across the country to immediately adjust their testing and accountability systems.

Texas uses the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) as the standardized test to assess Texas students’ academic performance. STAAR scores for each school campus and across school districts are heavily weighted in the public school accountability system to rate how districts and schools are performing.

STAAR provides the main statewide benchmark for student academic performance and progress. While any single test is an imperfect measure of students’ comprehensive learning progress, data that can be compared across years and student groups remains important for assessing students’ educational opportunities.

Where We Stand for the Upcoming Texas Legislative Session

In light of an increasingly widening learning gap and the importance of quality, valid data, IDRA supports canceling the full STAAR in the spring of 2021 in favor of an interim STAAR assessment. This interim assessment should be given to a representative sample of students based on the same methodology used by National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) across an expanded testing time between January and April of 2021.

All interim assessments should be used as formative assessments for diagnostic purposes to determine how students are learning. In addition to sample test data, opportunity-to-learn metrics can provide a more holistic picture of students’ learning and schools’ educational environments this year.

We similarly support reducing the number of state end-of-course exams in Texas by eliminating that English II and U.S. History exams that are not required by federal law (ESSA).

With these changes to student performance data, we urge suspension of high-stakes consequences for students associated with STAAR performance, such as grade promotion and high school graduation. School accountability must not harm students now or ever.

IDRA also has been urging that no A-F public school accountability ratings be issued, similar to spring 2020, due to a lack of normal assessment data and drastic changes in schools’ enrollment this year. The Texas Education Agency announced today that A-F ratings would be paused for 2020-21 school year.

See IDRA’s Legislative Priorities Factsheet: Grow and Sustain School District Health (in English & Spanish)

Why We Need Formative Assessments without High-stakes Accountability Sanctions

The global COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible for schools to properly administer the STAAR exam in the spring of 2020. Alarmingly, the COVID-19 virus infection rates have worsened since the first shutdowns last spring and continue to trend upward in Texas. Even with adjustments and additional resources, administering the STAAR remains extremely challenging.

Formative assessments are tests, assignments, or projects that measure how a student is learning content and where they need additional support. Summative assessments –such as the STAAR – are designed to measure how much a student has learned of specific content at the time of the test. They do not necessarily indicate new opportunities to support student learning.

Many students attend school remotely or in hybrid learning environments (partially in-person, partially online). Schools have lost contact with an estimated 250,000 Texas students this school year. We already know that students are struggling to maintain their grades this year, especially remote learners who are of color and in lower-income households strapped for resources.

Learn more at IDRA’s Education Policy Website on Growing and Sustaining Healthy School Districts

What Else We Should Consider as Metrics for Student and School Success

To paint a fuller picture of how students are faring in schools, IDRA advocates the collection of opportunity-to-learn metrics for the 2020-21 school year that are complimentary to interim testing. These metrics would help school districts address chronic absenteeism prevalent in schools during the pandemic. Metrics include:

  • State report on the rates of in-person vs. remote student attendance disaggregated by special student population and consideration for chronic absenteeism;
  • State report on the number of students “disengaged” (not completing assignments) in the 2020-21 school year;
  • State report on educational digital divide (number of students without connectivity and/or devices);
  • State report on forms of distance learning provided by school districts in 2020-21;
  • State report on teacher preparation methods in distance learning instruction and teacher persistence throughout 2020-21 (including substitute teacher rates);
  • COVID-19 positivity rate monthly average for districts’ counties this school year (since August 2020);
  • Discipline data by instructional environment (virtual, hybrid, etc.) and according to discretionary discipline codes; and
  • Data on the difference in attendance rates and enrollment averages for school campuses between the 2020-21 year and each of the three preceding school years (2017-18 to 2019-20, pre-pandemic levels).

Student assessment should be meaningful and informative and not lead to punitive consequences for students’ learning and graduation. More holistic metrics of students’ opportunities-to-learn can provide a complementary picture to how students have fared this year and how schools can support them.

November 19, 2020 Edition

Families Share Insights on Young Emergent Bilingual Children to Inform Policy & Practice

For many years, IDRA has hosted Mesas Comunitarias, or community roundtables, to bring together families to discuss pressing education issues facing their students and schools. These gatherings are part of IDRA’s community-centered approach to policymaking, which supports local advocacy work and ensures that communities with lived expertise are partners in state-level policy efforts.

At a virtual roundtable event this week, IDRA brought together community members from across Texas to discuss opportunities to support young emergent bilingual (English learner) students and their families.

Previous Mesas Comunitarias hosted by IDRA focused on the impact of state policies like Texas’ House Bill 5. This law, passed in 2013, changed graduation requirements for students across the state, potentially putting students at a disadvantage in their education attainment process. Through a previous roundtable focused on this law, community partners in the lower Rio Grande Valley identified opportunities to advocate for college readiness and higher graduation standards for the students in their community.

Like previous events, the purpose of the most recent Mesa Comunitaria was to identify opportunities for policy change, driven by families across Texas. The session, held primarily in Spanish with translation provided throughout, focused specifically on the experiences of families of young emergent bilingual students and aimed to identify family advocates for a statewide advocacy effort called the Early Childhood English Learner Initiative.*

Family advocate partners will help to advance the policy agenda of the initiative and will provide invaluable perspectives and expertise to ensure equitable and excellent educational opportunities for young emergent bilingual students.

Some of the most impactful input from the family participants includes the following:

Parents of emergent bilingual students believe their children should be bilingual not only to be competitive in a globalizing workforce, but because their language is part of their cultural identity and connects them to their roots. Many participants noted that bilingualism connects their children to cultural identity and wisdom.

Participants emphasized the power in collective action and advocacy for young students, acknowledging the importance of advocating for policy change together.

Families want more information on the different types of bilingual education programs that are offered in schools. This need points to a concerning lack of information from the state education agency and local school districts about even basic programs for young emergent bilingual students.

Participants have concerns about how dual language education is implemented in their districts. Though recent school funding policies provided for a small increase in funding for dual language programs, families continue to see problems with implementation of these programs for their students.

These insights were invaluable to connect participants and reveal common challenges families and young emergent bilingual students face. Importantly, the information will influence local and state-level efforts to change educational policy and practice.

IDRA will continue to host regional Mesas Comunitarias over the next several months. We encourage families from across the state to participate to help to ensure educational policies and practices at all levels are driven by the students and families impacted by them.

For more information about participating in a Mesa Comunitaria or partnering as a family advocate in the Early Childhood English Learner Initiative, contact IDRA’s Deputy Director of Policy, Dr. Chloe Latham Sikes at

*The Early Childhood English Learner initiative is funded through the generous support of Philanthropy Advocates with the leadership of Texans Care for Children and in partnership with IDRA and other advocacy organizations and experts. IDRA serves as a steering committee co-leader with Texans Care for Children; Philanthropy Advocates; Dr. Dina Castro, UNT Denton; and Texas Association for the Education of Young Children (TxAEYC).

October 14, 2020 Edition

Reopening Presents Opportunities for Innovation and Collaboration throughout the South

Across the country, students, families and school communities face numerous challenges to safely, effectively and equitably reopening schools. To meet these challenges, school districts across the South have developed innovative and collaborative strategies that may serve as examples to school districts across the region.

Increasing Engagement with Communities to Provide Support for Families

The COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated longstanding disparities in engagement between schools and communities. Those that have focused on engagement use a number of strategies to not only understand the needs of their communities but also to provide corresponding support to meet those needs.

For example, the Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida conducted a survey of over 250,000 families and incorporated the feedback from those surveys into a plan that prioritized a variety of supports to help parents navigate the start of the school year. The plan featured a week of welcome, a parent academy, and resources focused on topics relevant to resuming learning, including navigating student and parent portals, accessing resources for mental and social-emotional wellness, and building organization and study skills. In addition, the district developed a range of communication tools to disseminate resources to parents and families, including the use of a Distance Learning Help Desk, a K-12 Help Desk, and a Mental Health Hotline.

Similarly, the Houston Independent School District (ISD) created a plan to engage parents based on the most common mediums that parents use. The plan uses a combination of social media, news media, guides, blog posts, in-person and virtual meetings, and the district’s website to communicate with parents.

Increasing Engagement to Support Disengaged and Disconnected Students and Families

As a result of the pandemic, schools were forced to rapidly switch to remote instruction and have been working to find and engage students from a distance. To address this challenge, districts have had to find ways to track students who have become disengaged and to provide resources to staff and educators to work together to support those students.

For example, San Antonio ISD launched a student interaction tracker app that helps the district track disengaged students. The app documents interactions between teachers, support staff and students as well as whether or not students are completing assignments. It allows all of the teachers and staff who work with an individual student to stay up to speed on their engagement and progress and when they need additional support or specific help.

School districts also are working to address additional resource gaps that create disconnections with students and families. For example, Guilford County Schools in North Carolina took several deliberate steps to expand access for families. The district purchased devices for nearly every student, teacher and instructional staff member. It also is addressing internet infrastructure by deploying 125 “smart buses” in high-need communities to help bridge the digital divide. In addition, the district is working with city officials in High Point to jointly identify more locations with city-owned and managed Wi-Fi that can be accessible to students and families. The district offers free-of-cost learning centers in targeted areas of the county for students to participate in remote learning as well.

These are but a few of the examples of innovative strategies being undertaken across the South to address the challenges presented by COVID-19. To ensure equitable outcomes for students this fall, education leaders should continue looking to their contemporaries across the region and adapt these strategies for the benefit of all students and families that they serve.

October 8, 2020 Edition

Serving English Learners During COVID-19 – School Leadership and Teacher Support

As schools work to balance virtual and in-person instruction, English learners, their families and teachers face unique challenges in access, teaching and learning. A number of years ago, IDRA conducted a national study to identify the practices in schools that enable students to grow academically and socially in their native language as well as English. The study resulted in IDRA’s rubric, Good Schools and Classrooms for Children Learning English, to help people in schools and communities evaluate five dimensions that are necessary for success: school indicators, student outcomes, leadership, support, and programmatic and instructional practices.

Those dimensions are just as important today in virtual settings. This issue of Learning Goes On provides recommendations for the dimensions related to school leadership and support.

Supporting Excellent Programs for English Learners

In-person student engagement with teachers is ideal for listening, speaking and other social interactions that are critical parts of language development. But virtual platforms and limited in-person engagement caused by COVID-19 precautions hinders such engagement.

Recommendations for supporting English learners’ social and academic development include:

  • Schools can provide increased instruction, tutoring and one-on-one support time for English learners. These additional supports should rely on virtual adaptations of best practices for English learner programs (IDRA, 2015; Robledo Montecel & Cortez, 2001).
  • As schools phase-in bringing students back into classrooms, educators should focus first on students who most need in-person support, including English learners.
  • State and local education agencies should provide professional development for teachers focused on culturally-sustaining instruction and other research-based ways to support English learners.

Facing Teaching and Assessment Challenges for Schools and Families

Many teachers and families report difficulty and confusion with teaching and assessment systems for English learners. Some families say they are unsure if their child(ren) even passed courses from the last school year after COVID-19 closures. Some districts report that, early in this school year, significant numbers of students are already struggling with assessments.

Recommendations for more effecting teaching and learning systems for English learners include:

  • School districts should use frequent, formative virtual and in-person assessments that enable teachers and families to evaluate learning over time and respond immediately to student needs.
  • School districts should provide families with accessible translation services and translated classroom materials, virtual platforms, instructions, assessment and curriculum information, and updates so that parents who do not speak English can support their students and connect with teachers.
  • State and local education agencies should create special virtual platforms or similar non-virtual support systems and hire dedicated personnel to provide training and resources to support teachers and English learner students and families.

Addressing Digital Divide Challenges 

Many families face digital divide challenges in three major areas: connectivity, access to devices and user knowledge of specific technologies. The digital divide deeply impacts communities of color, including families of English learners, and communities with lower incomes and wealth disproportionately.

Additionally, some English learners may be, or have family members who are, immigrants. Immigrant families, particularly Latino-led immigrant families, are less connected than other families with limited incomes and are more likely to have mobile-only internet access (Rideout & Katz, 2016). Some families report receiving devices, like tablets, from their schools, but not enough for each child to use.

Some solutions to these access issues include:

  • State legislatures should ensure affordable internet access for all communities, recognizing connectivity as a public utility necessary for school, work and other types of engagement.
  • School districts and local government agencies should ensure access to devices through community spaces and identify ways to provide devices to each student in a family.
  • Families can work with their schools and local non-profit organizations to create community-based connections that encourage technology mentoring between college students/professionals and families.

Building Family-School Engagement 

Even without the digital divide, systemic shortcomings in how many schools engaged with families before COVID-19 were magnified in recent months and prevented important communication from happening as schools reopen. Weeks after schools began instruction for the fall, some school districts still report lost contact with students and families. And, data show that schools are less likely to have consistent contact with Black and Latino families, including families of English learners, even controlling for connectivity issues.

To address these challenges, school districts should do the following:

  • Increase the number of family support specialists in schools who can communicate with parents in the district. Ensure staff have the capacity to send all messages, updates and other communications to families in multiple languages.
  • Do not enforce punitive truancy measures. Retrain truancy officers or shift funds for those positions to bilingual family support specialists, counselors, social workers and other well-trained professionals who can meaningfully engage with families.
  • Increase staff and budgets for school district family engagement departments.
  • Expand the community schools approach to build connections between families, community-based organizations and schools.
  • Assume a virtual extension of the protections in Plyler v. Doe. Schools should not do anything, including through online platforms, to deny or chill access to schools for immigrant students or families. Schools should not penalize students who do not feel comfortable turning on video cameras that may show their homes or families.
  • Expand ethnic studies course offerings, training in culturally-sustaining pedagogy, and access to curricula that promotes safe, supportive and welcoming schools for all families.

To learn more about IDRA’s policy recommendations, check out our Policy, Advocacy, and Community Engagement website and our COVID-19 policy primer, Ensuring Education Equity During and After COVID-19.

And see our Web-based Technical Assistance Package on Family Engagement by the IDRA EAC-South.


IDRA. (2015). A Framework for Effective Instruction of Secondary English Language Learners. San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association.

Rideout, V., & Katz, V. (2019). Opportunity for all? Technology and learning in lower-income families. A report of the Families and Media Project. New York: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.

Robledo Montecel, M., & Cortez, J.D. (August 2001). Successful Bilingual Education Programs: Criteria for Exemplary Practices in Bilingual Education, IDRA Newsletter.

September 24, 2020 Edition

Maintaining a Supportive School Climate

A positive school climate is crucially important to school success. It affects attendance, engagement, learning and even graduation rates.

Yale University researchers stated in a recent article: “Schools with positive climates enjoy not only better academic outcomes, but also a host of social and emotional outcomes, such as reduced bullying, greater engagement and higher school-satisfaction ratings. Teachers, too, benefit from a positive school climate, with studies showing less stress and burnout and greater job satisfaction.”

But educators have never had to tend to school climates in a virtual world at the scale COVID-19 caused. Below are ways that school districts can ensure safe and supportive campus climates for students, teachers, staff and families during this pandemic.

1. Train adults, students and families on recognizing and responding to trauma, basic needs and COVID-related stress

Teachers and school staff need to be equipped to recognize issues like mental health crises, food insecurity or stress that students and adults may be experiencing. School districts can create resource databases and encourage community-school partnerships to help address the needs that arise. See information from IDRA on how school districts should develop support systems for students’ academic, social and emotional needs.

2. Prohibit suspensions, alternative school placements, and other inappropriate and harmful discipline practices that remove students from in-person and virtual classroom settings

These practices are ineffective and unfairly target students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ youth under normal circumstances. They are especially inappropriate during the pandemic when many adults and students are in challenging situations that impact their ability to come to school fully engaged and ready to teach and learn. See information from IDRA on how school districts should face pandemic-related issues in school.

3. Protect the free speech rights guaranteed to students by the U.S. Constitution

As the U.S. Supreme Court stated in its 1969 decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, “students do not shed their rights to freedom and expression at the schoolhouse gate.” Likewise, students participating in instruction from home should have their right of free speech protected and should not be punished for expressions, including perceived dress code violations, that do not disrupt teaching and learning processes. See information from IDRA on student’s free speech rights.

4. Do not use punitive measures to enforce COVID-19 public health recommendations

Some school districts have decided to harshly punish students for behaviors like sneezing, coughing and violating social distancing rules. Harsh punishments for this conduct are a poor deterrent and have harmful – and potentially discriminatory – impacts on the students who become criminalized as well as impacts on the entire campus community.

Schools should focus instead on positive methods to encourage compliance with public health guidelines, including providing personal protective equipment, teaching students about COVID-19 and the science behind infectious disease spread, and creative incentive systems that reward students for supporting and complying with public health protocols. See information from IDRA on how school districts should face pandemic-related issues in school.

5. Give students time to check in with their peers

Having designated time for check-ins can help students to feel less socially isolated and more aware of their feelings and needs. It can help teachers identify the supports students need and maintain safe classrooms that are centered on preventative and effective care. See information from IDRA on how school districts should develop support systems for students’ academic, social and emotional needs.

6. Protect the rights of immigrant students and families

Protections guaranteed to immigrant students and students from immigrant families by the U.S. Supreme Court in Plyler v. Doe extend to students at home during the time of virtual learning. Schools should not have any policies, procedures or other requirements for online learning spaces that threaten the safety of students or families or that limit their ability to participate in school. For more information on how schools can protect and welcome immigrant students, see IDRA’s welcoming immigrant student’s infographic.

Also see the IDRA EAC-South‘s resources that help schools create asset-based solutions to address inequities and desegregation issues impacting national origin equity.

7. Do not send police officers, including school resource officers (SROs), to students’ homes for discipline purposes, attendance compliance procedures or other interactions

If students or families need welfare checks, these should not be done by law enforcement officers, but by social workers, counselors or family support specialists who are trained to address needs without taking punitive measures. For more information on how school districts should engage school resource officers, see IDRA’s School Policing Resources.

September 17, 2020 Edition

Building Trust through Authentic Communication

A recent nationwide survey about reopening schools this fall found that families with limited economic resources and Black or Hispanic families were much less likely than white or wealthy families to believe that educators could keep schools safe. These differences in attitudes may be attributed in part to differences in how educators communicate with families.

Negative interactions with schools clearly diminish the trust that parents and caregivers have in schools. When most of a school’s communication tactics rely on one-way communication and focus on disseminating information, the school misses opportunities to build relationships with students’ families.

Activities like sending fliers home with students, creating promotional videos, sending mass e-mails and leading static webinars or presentations – while needed – are not examples of authentic communication between schools and families. These methods do not allow for meaningful feedback from parents and caregivers. Likewise, when communicating information about student progress, it is not enough to merely post such things as grades on a parent portal on the district’s website.

As students are physically and socially disconnected from school campuses via online instruction, caregivers and teachers need authentic dialogue more urgently.

One Southern district, served by the IDRA EAC-South, discovered a deeper issue when leaders collected data intending to identify digital divide equity issues. They were surprised to learn that white families were twice as likely to have two-way communications with teachers during pandemic school closures than Black and Latino families. Controlling for lack of connectivity, 60% of white families and students had frequent two-way communication with school personnel through phones, emails and conference platforms, while only 30% of Black and Latino families had such communication.

This example reflects a trend across the South and points to equity and authentic engagement issues between schools and families far deeper than the digital divide.

Strategy: Add or Bolster Two-Way Communication Methods
Schools can be proactive in delivering information to parents and caregivers in a manner that enables families to provide real-time feedback about their concerns. For homes with ample connectivity and devices, schools can use email for interactions beyond just sending out news. First, parents and caretakers need to know they are corresponding with a specific person. Second, the educator should be ready to respond quickly and participate in a peer conversation.

Educators must be prepared and supported to engage in dialogue in the dominant language spoken in the home and in a way that is culturally appropriate.

Fundamentally, communication should use tools that families have. The most common is the telephone, whether it be a landline, smart phone or flip-phone. Family members in south Texas told us they appreciated being able to talk with their child’s teacher by phone instead of having to figure out how to use higher-tech tools in the rare occasions they were available in the neighborhood or community center. They also reported that school personnel seemed to avoid talking with them by phone.

Provided families have access to Wi-Fi and devices, other tactics include setting up virtual office hours or town halls with live, real-time, online sessions. Weekly contacts and dialogues keep families informed and reduce the isolation brought about by the COVID-19 separations.

Schools can provide resources and institutional support for parent support specialists and other family liaisons ensure this contact happens. They also can retrain truancy officers to provide this support, too, rather than enforcing unhelpful and ineffective truancy measures.

Communicating with Purpose
No school communication method will build trust if it is not done in the spirit of partnership. Parents and caregivers are the experts on their children and youth. They know that the future of their community depends on the success of education today. Perhaps now more than ever, educators, students and families need to build strong relationships with each other in order to face the challenges of an isolating pandemic and its effects on education.

Youth Tech Mentors Bridge Schools and Families – Creative Community Responses to COVID-19 Webinar Recording
Partnering with Families to Reopen and Reimagine Schools – School Reopening Webinar Recording

Effective Family Outreach in the Pandemic Era, Article by Karmen Rouland, Ph.D., and Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed.

September 9, 2020 Edition

Federal Court Strikes Down Department of Education Rule Requiring Public School Districts to Give More Relief Funds to Private Schools

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia struck down last Friday a U.S. Department of Education rule that required many public school districts to give away more of their CARES Act emergency relief funds to private schools. The Court found that the Department’s interpretation of the CARES Act “equitable services” provision “conflicts with the unambiguous text of the statute” and is, therefore, void.

The decision in NAACP v. DeVos applies to schools nationwide. The plaintiffs are both school districts and families, including Broward County Public Schools, Fla.; DeKalb County School District, Ga.; Denver County School District, Colo.; Pasadena Unified School District, Calif.; and Stamford Public Schools, Conn., and families with children enrolled in public schools in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C.

In a statement hailing the Court’s decision, attorneys for the plaintiffs noted the Department’s rule would have funneled “scarce public resources to private education, to the detriment of our highest-need students in public schools across the country.”

A coalition of Texas-focused educational equity organizations submitted an amicus brief in the lawsuit, citing IDRA’s research: Cutting Public School Funds to Subsidize Private Schools. The amicus brief stresses that the Department’s rule would divert those much-needed resources to private schools, regardless of their students’ family income. In Texas, the rule would have required 185 public school districts to set aside an additional $38.7 million in relief funds to private schools within their district boundaries.

Public schools need those relief funds (and more) to ensure safe and supportive schools for all students. Schools, families and students across the country have identified numerous needs during COVID-19, including for resources to address learning loss during school closures, narrow the digital divide, and improve important connections between schools and communities.

Every bit of relief funding is particularly important in school districts that were already struggling to serve students in families, like in Texas, where a large portion of federal funds are not being used for new COVID-19 costs, but to replace a portion of the state’s share of per-pupil attendance funds to which school districts are entitled. While many challenges to equitable funding persist, the Court’s decision last week ensures public school districts will be able to use more critical relief funds for their students.

Look up how much money each Texas school district would have lost (among those affected).

September 3, 2020 Edition

Texas-focused Education Equity Groups Support Lawsuit Challenging U.S. Department of Education Rule that Shifts Relief Funds from Public Schools to Private Schools

Advocacy groups, school districts and others across the country filed lawsuits against the U.S. Department of Education, challenging a new rule that requires some public school districts to use more of their CARES Act emergency relief funds to support private school students within their district boundaries. The lawsuits claim the Department’s rule ignores Congress’ intent that relief funds only be used to support private school students from families with limited incomes – a long-standing requirement for federal funds called “equitable services.” Instead, the new rule allocates more public funds to private schools based on total student population, regardless of family income.

Many organizations have filed amicus (“friend of the court”) briefs in the lawsuits, with several briefs citing IDRA’s recent analysis, Cutting Public School Funds to Subsidize Private Schools. The analysis shows the Department’s new rule could cost 185 Texas school districts a total of more than $44 million – an additional $38.7 million more than they are required to use for private school services under the normal rules.

In the amicus brief filed by the coalition of Texas-focused educational equity advocates, the groups argue the Department’s new rule unlawfully replaces the equitable services distribution methods Congress intentionally adopted in the CARES Act.

Additionally, the groups point to the detrimental impact the Department’s rule will have on students of color and students in Texas schools that have been historically underfunded and underserved. Citing projected revenue shortfalls and decades of funding equity battles in the courts and legislature, the groups argue the rule “will further exacerbate existing educational inequities by depriving Texas public school districts of funds desperately needed to keep school communities safe and provide critical education services.”

For more information see the amicus briefs by the Council of the Great City Schools in State of Michigan, et al. V. DeVos and the coalition of Texas-focused educational equity advocates in NAACP v. DeVos. At the time of writing, federal judges in Washington and California had issued preliminary injunctions blocking the Department of Education from enforcing its rule in several states.

August 26, 2020 Edition

Family Engagement is Key to Student Safety Amidst COVID-19 Reopening

Over the summer, state and local school leaders throughout the U.S. South have wrestled with decisions about whether to open schools in-person, remotely or some combination. Many emphasized in-person instruction as the way forward.

For example, Florida’s Education Commissioner issued an emergency order requiring all schools to offer the option for learning in person at least five days per week. Similarly, South Carolina’s State School Superintendent published guidance that required schools to offer the option for students to receive in-person instruction while stopping short of mandating five days a week.

State-level education leaders in most other Southern states left the decision to local districts, but have recommended that districts mix remote and in-person instruction (see links at the end of this article). Many of the decisions about how a child will attend school has been left up to students’ families. Thus, it is vital for schools to provide families and parents with up-to-date information about how students and school staff are being impacted by the pandemic.

COVID-19 conditions across the South have constantly shifted. Schools that opened for in-person instruction struggle to stay open. Although schools have been open for just a few weeks, at least one school has had to close temporarily due to COVID in AlabamaGeorgiaMississippiNorth Carolina and Tennessee.

Although the full scope of infections in student populations is difficult to determine due to limited testing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that infection rate in children 17 and under increased “steadily” from March to July while students were largely out of school. With children coming into closer proximity in school, the number of COVID-19 cases and school closures may rise as more students across the South head back to school.

Understanding the current status of the pandemic is especially important for families of color as the CDC notes that “long-standing health and social inequities have put many people from racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19.”

State education leaders must communicate up-to-date information about the pandemic to enable families to make the best decisions for their students. Several states in the U.S. South region are reporting data of this type.

Snapshot Map: How Virginia Schools Are Reopening

The Virginia Department of Education published an interactive county level map that details the kind of instruction that parents can expect.

The Tennessee Department of Education created a dashboard that provides the instructional model in each school district.

The North Carolina Department of Public Health publishes a bi-weekly report of clusters of outbreaks in child care and school settings.

The Arkansas Department of Health similarly publishes numbers of COVID-19 cases by school district.

Recognizing the need for more transparency, education leaders in Texas and Louisiana recently announced plans to create statewide tracking databases for cases that arise in schools. These data tracking systems are a necessary addition to local communication from school districts to families when there is an outbreak in a local school. These systems help identify which safety practices best protect students and staff.

But in order to keep students and families safe during the pandemic, school leaders must do more to equip families with timely information for making the safest decisions possible for their students. We recommend that schools consider the following.

  • Increase resources for parent support specialists who are tasked with ensuring consistent communication with families. Liaisons should speak the language of families the school serves when possible. For more staff, schools can repurpose school truancy officers (who should be instructed not to enforce punitive consequences when students are absent from virtual or in-person school).
  • Provide low-tech options for families to remain engaged with their schools, including phone trees, text alerts and similar outreach strategies.
  • Ensure all materials, including remote learning platforms, are available in families’ home languages.
  • Collect surveys frequently – using multiple distribution and collection modes – to facilitate hearing and addressing emerging needs of families quickly.
    • Increase funds for racially and ethnically diverse, high-quality counselors, social workers, and other mental and behavioral health professionals. Resources can be diverted from standardized testing and school policing budgets to hire these personnel.

To learn more about IDRA’s family leadership in education model and how to start strong school-family student partnerships, check out IDRA’s family engagement resources. For more information about ensuring equity in school reopening processes, review and share IDRA’s equity in reopening infographic.


*See reopening plans in AlabamaArkansasFloridaGeorgiaLouisianaMississippiNorth CarolinaSouth CarolinaTennesseeTexas and Virginia.

August 12, 2020 Edition

An Equity-focused Plan for Reopening Schools Safely

School reopening policies must be responsive to the needs of all families, students, teachers and schools. To ensure equity as schools reopen, IDRA makes the following policy recommendations to state, higher education, and school district leaders, including students and families. For a printable, sharable infographic, check out our equity checklist below.

See our full list of recommendations to ensure equitable educational opportunities for students in the immediate- and long-term in our online guide, Ensuring Education Equity During and After COVID-19.

1. 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.

* 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 can help to maintain contact with families during school closures.

* Ensure emergency funds (state and federal) are used to address schools’ virus-related needs that arise and supplement not supplant basic education funding. School districts that do not have additional resources to address unanticipated COVID-19 related needs should be not penalized with a subsequent funding shortage.

2. 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.

* 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.

* 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.

3. 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 provide clear online information and communications about college admission requirements, instructions for obtaining transcripts and teacher letters of recommendation, COVID-19-related adjustments, and resources for seeking financial aid and scholarships.

* 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.

* Advise students to access rigorous college preparatory coursework in high school, provide compensatory services and summer learning opportunities, and enhance instructional support so that students can succeed in those courses.

4. State agencies and educators should prioritize students’ safety, privacy and well-being.

* 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, supports and devices.

* 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.

Video Spotlight on the Rules for Reopening Texas Schools

School reopening guidance from the Texas Education Agency and other state officials has changed rapidly, sometimes multiple times in a day. With the first day of school right around the corner, Dr. Chloe Latham Sikes and Ana Ramón, two members of IDRA’s Policy, Advocacy and Community Engagement team, walk you through a breakdown of the latest state rules and guidance for Texas public schools. See Video Spotlight on the Rules for Reopening Texas Schools.

July 10, 2020 Edition

IDRA Releases Guide to Ensuring Education Equity During and After COVID-19

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.

To respond, IDRA has developed a guide for education leaders and state officials to ensure education equity during and after the pandemic with specific recommendations for policy and best practices. We will continue to update the site according to health guidance, policy changes and research.

June 26, 2020 Edition

State Reopening Guidance Must Prioritize Equity

Schools will reopen in some form or fashion for the upcoming 2020-21 school year. Students will be starting their fall semesters in virtual classrooms, hybrid arrangements and some even in-person.

In many states, education leaders and lawmakers claim that schools will be safe to welcome students back in person in the fall despite the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases since shut-down orders were lifted in late May and early June. The Centers for Disease Control issued health guidance for schools, though states will largely determine how to distribute personal protective equipment and to which districts.

State Education Agency Guidance to Schools

Several southern states have issued guidance on reopening for the 2020-21 school year, including ArkansasFloridaGeorgiaMississippiNorth CarolinaSouth CarolinaTennessee, and Virginia. Guidance addresses adaptive scheduling models, such as intersessional calendars, new assessment options and dates to gauge students’ learning progress – or loss – since the pandemic prompted school closures, and resources for parents and families who plan to continue home-based learning.

Many of the state plans focus on building “hybrid” or “blended” models of instruction for the upcoming school year that include a combination of in-person and remote learning. In Texas, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) is in the process of developing guidance for both distance-learning and in-person instruction. TEA used the current state statutes for the Virtual School Networks to form two tracks for continued at-home instruction: synchronous and asynchronous instruction.

Synchronous instruction requires a two-way, real-time instructional interaction between teachers and students through virtual platforms. Asynchronous instruction offers a self-guided format and occurs remotely “out of sync” with real-time interaction between teachers and students. This format focuses more on students’ daily engagement with instructional content as opposed to real-time instruction from the teacher. (See IDRA’s resource Ensuring Equity in Online Learning – Considerations in Response to COVID-19’s Impact on Schooling.)

At the same time, budgetary shortfalls due to COVID-19 across the region will impact reopening challenges. This may prompt cuts in education that rival the Great Recession in 2008 and that may fall hardest on marginalized student groups. (See IDRA’s analysis: Without Intervention, COVID-19-Induced Budgetary Shortfalls Will Fall Hardest on Marginalized Students in the South.)

Equity Concerns for School Reopening Guidance

After nearly four full months of the pandemic, we have seen how the consequences of COVID-19 exacerbate our existing social and economic inequities along racial and class lines. The virus has disproportionately infected and harmed Black and Latino communities that are more likely to have limited access health insurance, hold essential worker jobs that increase their exposure, and experience inconsistent internet connectivity for resources and information. Reopening schools could exacerbate similar disparities.

Students of essential workers, those with limited access to virtual learning, and whose families have limited childcare options may go back to school in-person, while families with multiple internet devices and/or the income and time flexibility to conduct home-based instruction may keep kids home. Without careful and clear guidance, these different learning arrangements could exacerbate serious health and academic inequities among students.

How School Districts and Communities Can Plan Safe Learning Environments

To plan for safe learning environments, school district leaders must engage everyone in the school community – teachers, families and, most importantly, students. Last week’s Learning Goes On policy update spotlighted the importance of community engagement in schools’ plans to reopen. In addition, IDRA makes the following recommendations that were informed in part by panelists during our recent IDRA webinar, “Nurturing Students’ Hearts and Minds” that is available for viewing on-demand.

Districts will need to prepare to address the mental health and well-being of students and staff to create safe learning environments. This includes reallocating resources to hire and support counselors and social workers, and incorporating trauma-informed, restorative practices throughout the school day, such as time for reflection, conversation circles and meditation.

Districts can end or limit their agreements with police departments to avoid harmful disciplinary consequences for students. Such steps will affirm to students and families their district’s intention to meaningfully invest in people and non-harmful approaches that create safe schools. See our sample school district resolution and related resources.

Districts must support teachers to adapt to the multiple instructional models that students will learn through in the upcoming school year. Several organizations provide free and low cost training: IDRAInternational Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA), Google for EducationMicrosoft Teams for Education. (Also see IDRA’s Best Practices for Online Instruction in the Wake of COVID-19.)

State and district leaders must address the digital divide to ensure equitable educational access. This can be achieved through city and state initiatives, intentional business partnerships and additional state support for technological capacity (connectivity and devices).

Districts should adopt ethnic studies curricula to promote culturally-relevant instructional content and practices, which deepens student engagement. See IDRA’s support services for Mexican American Studies and African American Studies.

Teachers can co-construct curriculum with students and families. The IDRA EAC-South provides training and assistance in culturally-relevant pedagogy and student engagement to serve students in the U.S. South.

Teacher preparation programs must incorporate an equity approach to their pre-service teacher training curriculum and practicum experiences.

Schools must educate students to know their rights in all facets of their life, including their legal, health and political rights. Youth advocacy in critical moments in time has changed society for the better.

Policy guidance to reopen schools continues to develop rapidly as the upcoming school year approaches. It is a complicated task, but guidance must account for the multitude of needs that students and staff will bring to their virtual and in-person classrooms. We cannot afford for equity to get lost in the shuffle.

June 19, 2020 Edition

Schools Face Challenges to Reopening – Community Input and Supplemental Funds Are Critical

As states and school districts make plans to reopen schools, they must do so with sufficient resources and meaningful community input. In addition to resources schools need every year, schools must be able to address educational inequities that were deepened by COVID-19. It is crucial that school reopening guidelines include students and their families in the planning and implementation process.

School Reopening Guidelines and Proposals Vary

Many state education agencies and school districts have begun to issue school reopening plans. For example, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced Thursday that schools across the state will reopen in the fall. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has a set of guidelines that advise school districts on how to begin in-person instruction, plan for likely outbreaks and offer necessary virtual options when applicable for summer instruction. TEA plans to release additional reopening guidance next week and noted the guidance will not require students to wear masks or be tested for COVID-19 symptoms.

Even with direction from state agencies, school district and campus leaders will make many of the decisions about how schools reopen. Some districts propose moving to intersessional calendars to help plan for later in the year if COVID-19 infection rates increase and schools are forced to close again. These calendars could include an earlier start date, longer winter or other breaks and a later end of school year date. A wide range of scenarios may take place from fully in-person to fully virtual, adding to the uncertainty and unpredictability this pandemic is causing.

The Challenges of Reopening Schools

There are several challenges to reopening schools, including safety concerns. As many states report recent record highs of new infections, families question their school’s ability to safely bring faculty, teachers and students back into the classroom. A recent ABC News/Ipsos poll found 45% of parents with school-aged children are not comfortable sending their children back to school. Parents fear schools will not be prepared and worry students and staff will not follow rules.

Some state decisions about distribution of federal relief funds complicate district decisions to reopen. In Texas, TEA chose to use the federal CARES Act education relief funds (ESSER funds) to back-fill its 2019-20 budget, leaving little supplemental funds for school districts to use in the 2020-21 school year. In other words, TEA supplanted the originally allocated state public school money for the last 12 weeks of the spring semester with school districts’ federal relief funds instead of truly supplementing the additional district expenses for COVID-19. Alabama and Georgia are using CARES Act funds similarly to Texas.

Such decisions leave school districts with little to no supplemental funding to plan for what will surely be additional challenges for students’ academic, physical, and social-emotional health and safety.

Communities Must be Involved in School Reopening Plans

To help build confidence in school reopening decisions, it is crucial to include students, teachers and families in the school reopening decision-making process. Schools should seek to learn more about challenges pertaining to distance learning, academic instruction, special populations, grade promotion and new classroom safety guidelines, to name a few.

Some school districts have distributed surveys and other sentiment-gathering tools, which is a best practice in any district’s decision making but even more so during times of uncertainty. But surveys are not sufficient.

After working with student, parent and teacher groups, IDRA recommends school districts take into consideration the following issues when determining reopening strategies. (These recommendations were informed in part by students during our recent IDRA webinar, “Student Perspectives on a Changing School Climate,” that is available for viewing on-demand.)

  • Connect with community members – including students, parents and teachers – and with education and public health experts to inform reopening decisions and to build confidence in any implemented strategies.
  • Prepare physical school spaces to meet CDC and healthcare experts’ recommendations, including sanitation and use of personal protective equipment for students, teachers, maintenance personnel and faculty.
  • Re-organize daily activities to promote social distancing and protocols to deal with emerging COVID-19 cases within schools.
  • Prioritize resources to support the mental healthcare and well-being of students who are faced with the challenges of distance learning and the added stress of social isolation from peers.
  • Focus on the evolving instructional needs of students and be prepared for continued distance learning and some type of transition back to in-person schooling.
  • Ensure virtual learning opportunities are available to all students and families when needed, but do not replace in-person learning permanently and enable students to return to their local schools when ready.

Overall, school districts should continue to prioritize connecting with the people who are directly impacted by their decisions. If students and families are not central to reopening decisions, schools risk losing the confidence of the community and making affected populations disengaged.

This is an opportunity to incorporate our community into how the education system responds when challenged. Reopening is just the first of many steps schools will need to address how students are educated. Going forward, students and families must guide how learning goes on.

June 12, 2020 Edition

U.S. Department of Education Affirms Intent to Exclude Undocumented Students from CARES Act Relief Funds

The U.S. Department of Education has just issued a rule prohibiting colleges and universities from distributing CARES Act relief funds to undocumented students, including DACA recipients. Originally, the Department issued guidance – a non-binding interpretation -excluding undocumented students from the critical funds. This guidance was met with pushback from lawmakers, students and other advocates. See IDRA President Celina Moreno’s op-ed, Not aiding DACA students merciless.

The guidance also confused colleges, which had already begun figuring out how to distribute the much-needed funds to students. The California Community Colleges system sued the Department over its interpretation of the CARES Act.

Though the Department acknowledged it did not have the authority to enforce its guidance, it has now doubled down on its harmful interpretation of the law. Last night, the Department issued an interim final rule limiting the distribution of CARES Act funds. Interim final rules are effective immediately, though they remain open for public comment for 30 days and may then be revised by the issuing department. Final rules carry the force and effect of law, meaning they can be enforced by the department.

The rule will open for a 30-day public comment period, beginning this Monday, June 15, 2020. You can exercise your right to engage in the rule-making process and submit a comment online. Watch IDRA’s social media for the direct link.

COVID-19 Federal Guidance Documents Impact Schools and Communities

As students, educators and families adjust to life with COVID-19, state and local education agencies are making important decisions that impact school budgets and operating procedures.

The U.S. Department of Education has used its power to distribute critical COVID-19 emergency relief funds to influence those decisions through federal guidance documents. The Department’s guidance documents include the memoranda, policy statements and other resources. They do not create new laws. Their purpose is to clarify existing laws and regulations and guide state and local education agencies to ensure their compliance. And they indicate how government agencies will interpret and enforce federal law, including civil rights protections for students. Because executive department heads, like the U.S. Secretary of Education, are appointed by the President, each new administration rescinds, changes and creates guidance documents.

This spring, the U.S. Department of Education issued guidance on states’ responsibilities to students and families regarding COVID-19 responses. Some state education agencies elected not to follow federal guidance that conflicts with their own efforts to provide equitable educational opportunities for students. For example, several states, including Mississippi, advised their public school districts not to follow federal guidance to increase the portion of federal COVID-19 relief funds provided to private schools within their district boundaries.

What You Can Do

A key first step for advocates, families, students and educators is to learn about important federal guidance and state and local laws and rules that impact your community. And you can connect with others in community-based coalitions to proactively engage local and state leaders to ensure they protect the rights guaranteed to all students. This community engagement is a critical part of ensuring educational equity, including in the distribution of emergency relief funds, school reopening procedures and access to digital learning materials.

For more information about how you can advocate equitable educational opportunities for students during the pandemic, see IDRA’s COVID-19 policy news and analyses, online resources and training, and guides to family leadership in education.

And, to help ensure policymakers at every level hear the voices of families, students, teachers and others, please complete IDRA’s survey (below) about COVID-19 needs and responses.

June 5, 2020 Edition

IDRA Statement in Support of Black Lives

Amidst the collective demonstrations demanding justice all over the country and the world, IDRA stands in solidarity with all who declare that Black Lives Matter. We express our sympathy for the families of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and all others who have lost their lives as a result of racialized violence and systemic oppression in the form of police brutality.

While we recognize that the pain and anguish is indescribable for those families, we also recognize that Black people living in the United States share the same pain and fear that they may be the next victims of a historically racist justice system that does not recognize the full value of their lives.

As an organization committed to promoting educational equity, IDRA recognizes the experience of young people of color, and especially Black youth. We know they are forced to live with a constant police presence in their schools. They have had to watch young people their age like Michael Brown and Tamir Rice killed at the hands of police. They are subjected to constant surveillance and scrutiny. They have had their health and security threatened by systemic healthcare inequities and the COVID-19 pandemic.

And they must manage all these challenges while figuring out how to excel academically and simultaneously asserting their right to simply exist. We remain in constant awe of the resilience and strength that those young people and their families consistently exhibit through their collective success in the face of these obstacles.

To our Black youth we say:

We hear you. We see you. We are with you. 

We feel a responsibility to promote policies and practices that affirm your right to exist and thrive. We affirm…

You deserve to attend public schools that receive sufficient funding to give you every resource to promote your success.

You deserve to attend public schools that do not single you out disproportionately for discipline.

You deserve to attend public schools free from fear of police brutality.

You deserve to attend public schools that give you every opportunity to attain college and career success.

You deserve to attend public schools that listen and partner with you, your families and your communities to make the changes that you think are important.

You deserve to attend public schools that support the totality of your humanity, including all of your physical, mental, and economic needs, and those of your family, especially as you deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

IDRA has worked to create equitable schools for you since 1973, but we know it will take everyone in the education system working together to make the changes that you deserve. To take action, IDRA encourages teachers, administrators, education leaders and policymakers to:

  • Engage authentically with youth and families by listening and making space to empower them to lead school change efforts. Read more about how the IDRA EAC-South helps education leaders accomplish these goals here.
  • Understand the challenges facing Black students due to COVID-19 and create resources to help students and families respond to the pandemic. Read more about IDRA’s guidance on responding to COVID-19 through our Learning Goes On webpage.
  • Empower youth and family to lead school change efforts by working together with them in partnership. Find out how IDRA supports family leadership development through IDRA’s Education CAFEs.
  • Join with others in education to craft culturally inclusive curricula and develop culturally responsive pedagogy to ensure that all students understand and appreciate the value of Black lives. Read more on IDRA’s efforts to promote inclusive curricula and pedagogy through our Online Community of Practice: Equity Connection.

The fight for equity and justice is not new, and it will take people of conscience of all races working together to dismantle the systems of racial oppression that have predated the founding of this country. IDRA encourages all to join us in the collective fight to ensure that our public schools, our communities and our nation recognize unequivocally that Black Lives Matter.

May 29, 2020 Edition

What We are Hearing from Families, Students and Educators: Part II

The experiences and needs of students, families, educators and other community leaders help to shape IDRA’s policy and educational practice work. Their critical perspectives must guide policymakers as they respond to the immediate and long-term needs of students, communities and schools in the time of COVID-19.

Community engagement is especially critical as state education agencies distribute federal CARES Act funds to school districts in the coming weeks. Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia have released guidance on the proper use of emergency relief funds. IDRA is analyzing how each state is interpreting the CARES Act and encouraging districts to use the funds.

State agencies and local districts must be held accountable and work with families and other advocates to ensure the equitable and effective distribution, use and tracking of these funds.

Here is what we are hearing from families who have responded to IDRA’s community engagement survey:

“I feel that the school staff are doing their best to bridge the gap, but for households like mine where I am a single parent, working from home and doing my best to support my child’s continuous engagement, distant learning is a challenge.”

“I don’t know how much instructional time is necessary. I think that my child could be doing schoolwork for 10+ hours/day and not run out of content, based on what the district has provided. I wish there were more opportunities for synchronous instruction, perhaps in small groups, perhaps across school sites if necessary.”

“Nothing compares to the quality of face-to-face. Even though I’m a former teacher myself and know how to continue educating my kids, I simply don’t have the time to do it best.”

“We have also lost daycare for our 4 year old. I am worried that my daughter will not be ready for preschool in 2020-21. I also fear both my children returning to school and catching COVID.”

Responses like these inform IDRA’s COVID-19 policy recommendations and education practice support. We need your support to gather more information from families, students and teachers. Please fill out IDRA’s survey, available in English and Spanish below, and share widely to ensure communities are centered in educational equity conversations. Thank you!

We especially need help reaching families who cannot complete the form online. We’ve created PDF versions that can be printed and shared.

Find more state COVID-19 updates and related educational equity news on IDRA’s COVID-19 dashboard and special webpage, Learning Goes On.

May 22, 2020 Edition

Without Intervention, COVID-19-Induced Budgetary Shortfalls Will Fall Hardest on Marginalized Students in the South

The quality of students’ education should not depend on their race, ethnicity or zip code. However, throughout U.S. history, race, poverty and the quality of schools have been inextricably linked to the detriment of students of color. Students of color often live in communities with lower levels of economic wealth due to discriminatory practices like housing segregation, predatory mortgage lending, redlining and exclusionary zoning (Collins, et al., 2017). These practices negatively impact these students, who are over five times more likely to attend a high-poverty school than their White student peers (NCES, 2018).

Education Budgetary Fallout from COVID-19

The national economic fallout is projected in the hundreds of billions of dollars (McNichol, et al., 2020) due to COVID-19-related decreases in sales tax revenue, increases in state unemployment benefits and higher public health costs. Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, all southern states already spent less than the national average on education (IDRA, 2020).

States will see significant budgetary shortfalls impacting education in both the short term and long term. For example, Arkansas cut $122.9 million from the public school fund for the 2020 fiscal year (Moritz & Wickline, 2020). A $4 billion and $3 billion budget shortfall is anticipated in North Carolina (Hinton, 2020) and Georgia (Salzer, 2020), respectively. This week, Texas announced a minimum of 5% across-the-board state cuts, including for its K-12 and higher education agencies (Abbott, et al, 2020). And Virginia reversed tuition freezes scheduled for higher education, halted teacher raises and eliminated planned funding increases for counselors.

School Funding Processes in the South Make Students in Poor Districts Especially Vulnerable to Economic Downturns

Due to the systemic barriers that concentrate poverty in many communities in the South, state budgetary shortfalls will undoubtedly fall harder on students in property-poor school districts. Where school district funding comes from property taxes, many property-poor districts cannot collect sufficient funds to provide a high-quality education and thus rely more heavily on state revenue. In those districts, local resources represent a relatively small portion of education funding. In fact, in every southern state except Florida and Texas, local funding driven by property taxes is a smaller percentage of total school revenue than the national average.

State revenues are the source of the majority of education funding in nearly every southern state. So as state revenues decline and state costs rise due to COVID-19, underserved students who reside in property-poor districts will be forced to rely on state legislatures to adequately and equitably distribute funding in the face of budget cuts.

Charting an Equitable Path Forward in Education

Policymakers must carefully consider how potential cuts to education may impact the most underserved students – students of color, English learners, rural students and students in economically distressed areas – and chart a way forward to ensure these students still receive the access to a high-quality education they deserve. Policymakers should:

  • Draw from state rainy-day funds to meet the needs of students during this crisis;
  • Continue to request federal education COVID-19 relief funds;
  • Update state funding formulae to ensure schools are funded equitably and able to meet the needs of marginalized students during any future budgetary crises;
  • Shield education spending from state budget cuts but, if cuts must be made, ensure they are limited in time and scope and protect the most vulnerable students;
  • Prioritize funding based on actual student need – focusing on students of color, students from families with limited incomes, English learners and students with disabilities – to ensure their access to resources and services to fill opportunity gaps;
  • Allocate funds to address resource gaps that result from the COVID-19-related shift to at-home learning, e.g., for digital resources, social-emotional supports, targeted academic and learning assessment resources, and summer learning opportunities; and
  • Consider additional stable and progressive ways to raise revenue that do not disproportionately negatively impact marginalized communities.


Abbott, G., Patrick, D., & Bonnen, D. (May 20, 2020). Letter to state agencies and courts.

Collins, C. Asante-Muhammad, D., Hoxie, J., & Nieves, E. (2017). The Road to Zero Wealth: How the Racial Wealth Divide is Hollowing Out America’s Middle Class. Institute for Policy Studies.

Hinton, J. (May 15, 2020). North Carolina lawmakers anticipate more than $3 billion budget shortfall, WLOS News.

IDRA. (April 3, 2020). Students in Southern States Face Short- and Long-Term COVID-19 Challenges, Learning Goes On. San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association.

Mattingly, J. (April 24, 2020). “It was a landmark year for education funding in Virginia – until COVID-19,” Richmond Times Dispatch.

McNichol, E., Leachman, M., & Marshall, J. (April 14, 2020). States Need Significantly More Fiscal Relief to Slow the Emerging Deep Recession. Austin, Texas: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Moritz, J., & Wickline, M. (April 16, 2020). “Arkansas Legislature OKs ’21 budget; Virus’s economic hit forecast to leave $212M unfunded,” Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

NCES. (2019). Table 216.60.Number and percentage distribution of public school students, by percentage of students in school who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, school level, locale, and student race/ethnicity: Fall 2016. Digest of Education Statistics. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.

Salzer, J. (April 20, 2020). Report: GA Budget shortfall may top $4 billion over next 15 months, Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

May 15, 2020 Edition

COVID-19 Does Not Change Civil Rights Protections for Students

IDRA and a number of educational equity advocates across the country issued a joint statement and open letter to federal, state and school district leaders to clarify that they must continue to protect student civil rights, even when making adjustments to respond to COVID-19 closures and precautions. The documents focus on the rights of students most impacted by educational inequities, including students of color, English learners, students from immigrant families, and students experiencing homelessness, among others. Following are some highlights.

* Title VI of the Civil Rights Act protects the rights of individuals, prohibiting discrimination based on race, color or national origin. State and local education agencies and schools, including charter schools, must comply with Title VI requirements if they receive federal financial assistance, including CARES Act emergency relief funds. These civil rights protections cannot be waived, even during emergencies.

Among many other protections, Title VI prohibits discrimination in the provision of services, including digital learning and school meals; prohibits discrimination against immigrant students and families (Plyler v. Doe); and prohibits discrimination against English learners (Lau v. Nichols). (See IDRA’s resources on the rights of immigrant students.)

* The Equal Educational Opportunities Act also protects the rights of English learners. This law requires equal educational opportunities for all students and prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex and English proficiency. It requires education agencies to remove barriers that prevent English learners from participating fully in education programs, including at-home learning programs due to COVID-19.

* Schools must ensure educational services to students with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. These laws prohibit discrimination against students with disabilities and guarantee educational access to programs that receive federal funds. These protections are still applicable during COVID-19 school closures.

* The rights of students experiencing homelessness are protected by the McKinney-Vento Act. The law requires education agencies to appoint a liaison to identify and remove barriers to educational services and supports to students, including those who are experiencing homelessness due to COVID-19.

* Federal and state constitutions protect students’ rights to due process and equal protection under the law. These protections require the equitable provision of educational resources and services. Additionally, state constitutions require that elementary and secondary schools serve students for the full school year. Therefore, states may not allow local education agencies to end the school year early or to stop or limit educational services due to COVID-19.

Contact Morgan Craven, J.D., IDRA’s national director of policy, advocacy and community engagement at should you have questions.

IDRA Joins Counselors in Calling for COVID-19 Responses that Include Trauma-Informed Support

In just a few weeks, the COVID-19 global pandemic has radically transformed the landscape of U.S. education. School closures, restrictions on social contact and online at-home learning methods present new challenges to protecting students.

With IDRA and Texas Appleseed, nine organizations issued an open letter today calling for school measures to protect students’ safety and wellbeing during this unprecedented time, including privacy rights, non-punitive strategies and trauma-informed support. The letter has recommendations for Texas policymakers, officials and administrators. Joining IDRA and Texas Appleseed in issuing the letter are the Texas Counseling Association, Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, National Association of Social Workers – Texas Chapter, Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Southern Education Foundation, and Texans Care for Children.

Students and families should not have to fear punishment or inordinate disciplinary consequences as they face the multitude of social, academic, financial and emotional challenges presented by COVID-19.

We urge educational leaders and state officials to consider the detrimental effects of disciplinary procedures on youth, especially as they grapple with the effects of the pandemic, and to develop responses that promote educational justice for youth.

May 8, 2020 Edition

COVID-19 Worsens Systemic Educational Inequity

We must swiftly and decisively address the new challenges COVID-19 has brought to schools and families. But the deeper challenges are old, entrenched and have been obvious to impacted communities for generations. The heart of the problem is not simply the virus itself, but the pre-existing barriers to opportunities for English learners, students of color, students living in poverty and others.

Systemic inequities are woven into our education, healthcare, economic, housing, legal and other systems. They disproportionately harm people based on characteristics like race, national origin, linguistic background, ability, gender identity and sexual orientation. They are driven by discriminatory policies and practices. And they are evidenced by data and the experiences of people impacted by them who – through no fault of personal or cultural characteristics – suffer the harmful impacts.

Students of color, students with disabilities, English learners and students from families with limited incomes struggle the most under the new reality of at-home learning and social isolation, which is exacerbating systemic education inequities. Here are a few examples:

* Digital Divide: Even before COVID-19, systemic factors restricted the online participation of marginalized communities. Those factors include income and wealth differences, limited access to relevant technology coursework, and the monopolization and geographic concentration of internet services. Now, digital learning expectations due to COVID-19 further highlight the lack of access to the devices, internet and knowledge critical to participating successfully in our online modern world.

 * College Access: Despite their obligation to educate all students, states have a long history of underfunding schools that serve communities of color and families living in poverty and of failing to provide equitable access to the high-quality coursework that prepares all students for college. Now, during the COVID-19-induced economic downturn, families with limited incomes and without college degrees are having particular difficulty weathering the economic storm.

 * Language Barriers: English learners and their families face difficulties getting information and coursework from schools. English learners have always had significant challenges accessing excellent educational opportunities, even with protections under federal law. English learner programs often are underfunded and lack high-quality books and certified teachers. And, schools serving English learners may not communicate adequately with families. Policy decisions that limit access for English learners have long cost them opportunities and are now creating more challenges for at-home learning.

A Recent Study on Staggering Systemic Inequities

Just as COVID-19 worsens inequities in education systems it also has a disproportionate and negative impact on the health of communities of color. Researchers recently evaluated reported COVID-19 infections and deaths in the United States and examined emerging evidence that the virus disproportionately impacts Black people.

Most COVID-19 data reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) by state health departments have not been disaggregated by race, so the researchers examined county population data. They compared infection and death rates in counties with populations of Black people higher than the national proportion (13%) to counties with average or below average populations of Black people.

The researchers controlled for several factors, including: (1) the length of time the virus was known to be present in the county; (2) environmental factors, like air pollution that can worsen respiratory illnesses and is more prevalent in communities with higher populations of Black people; and (3) co-existing health conditions, like hypertension and diabetes, that can worsen outcomes for people with COVID-19 and are more prevalent in Black communities.

Although only one in five counties has a higher-than-average Black population (representing 35% of the U.S. population), the data showed that those counties account for almost half of all COVID-19 cases and 58% of deaths. Those counties (91%) are concentrated in the South.

The researchers stressed that “structural factors, including health care access, density of households, unemployment, pervasive discrimination and others, drive these disparities, not intrinsic characteristics of Black communities or individual-level factors.” This is critical. The researchers point to the systems – buttressed by decades of discriminatory policy – as the drivers of the disparities. Policymakers decide where refineries are located, who has access to quality healthcare, and how to design cities and transportation systems. They often base these decisions on ignorance, indifference, or the value they place on the people impacted. And, too often, lawmakers make decisions without the involvement of impacted communities.

How Do We Address Systemic Inequities in Education?

Systemic inequities are caused by discriminatory, uninformed or apathetic policy decisions, so they must be addressed by fair, data-driven and intentional policy decisions. Alerted to the disproportionate impacts of the virus, policymakers must enact targeted protective measures. But to reach the roots of the problems, they should also take a similar informed and systemic approach in addressing longer-term educational needs by:

  • Collecting and analyzing data disaggregated by characteristics like race, wealth and gender so they can target responses and funds to the communities most impacted.
  • Taking a systems approach to a COVID-19 policy response, recognizing the impact that racism, wealth discrimination, housing and school segregation, and other systemic inequities have on the creation of excellent and equitable schools for all students.
  • Including impacted communities in all policymaking conversations. It is critical that the communities affected by decisions are part of the decision-making processes that have long-ignored their important perspectives, research and policy recommendations.


Adams-Prassl, A., Boneva, T., Golin, M., & Rauh, C. (2020). Inequality in the Impact of the Coronavirus Shock: Evidence from Real Time Surveys. University of Oxford [working paper].

amfAR (2020). COVID-19 Racial Disparities in U.S. Counties,  website accompanying data findings.

Auxier, B., & Anderson, M. (March 16, 2020). “As schools close due to the coronavirus, some U.S. students face a digital ‘homework gap,'” Pew Research Center.

IDRA. (April 3, 2020). “Students in Southern States Face Short- and Long-Term COVID-19 Challenges,”Learning Goes On.

IDRA. (2010). White Paper: The Cost of Inequity in Education: A Review of the Policy-Related Research.

Johnson, R. (2016). Texas Must Seize the Opportunity to Improve the Education for English Language Learners, testimony before the Texas Senate Education Committee.

Millett, G. (2020). Accessing Differential Impacts of COVID-19 on Black Communities. amfAR, Foundation for AIDS Research.

Newkirk II, V. (April 2, 2020). “The Coronavirus’ Unique Threat to the South,” The Atlantic.

May 1, 2020 Edition

Family and Community Input Needed for COVID-19 Relief Funds

Please fill out our survey on student and family needs!

Family and community input on COVID-19 CARES Act relief funds is not only needed so the federal government spends taxpayer dollars on those who need it most, such input is required by law. States and districts receiving these funds are required* to provide opportunities for families to participate in the planning for and operation of federally-funded programs.

The U.S. Department of Education grant applications through the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund and the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund require that states sign assurances that they are meeting requirements to gather community input. However, the department does not require applicants to describe how this will occur.

Federal law requiring community input codifies what we have long known: families possess knowledge about the needs of their communities and the solutions that best address those needs. They must have a role in crafting the educational policies, programs and practices that impact their schools, especially during this time when emergency needs must be addressed quickly and efficiently.

In particular, we must ensure authentic engagement and participation of families of color, families whose home language is not English, those living in poverty or experiencing homelessness, families of students with disabilities, and others disproportionately impacted by educational inequities.

IDRA and partner organizations have urged, and will continue to urge, local and state agencies to convene regular stakeholder meetings to ensure families, advocates and others are involved in planning immediate- and long-term responses to the educational inequities exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic.

Community-based organizations, schools and families that want to learn more about IDRA’s evidence-based approach to family leadership in education can find information on web-based technical assistance on the IDRA website.

We need your help! To ensure strong community partnership in our work, please take a moment to fill out a survey.

April 24, 2020 Edition

Public School Advocates Join Forces to Push for Emergency Funding Equity

IDRA and other advocacy organizations urged state and federal leaders to adopt policies to ensure COVID-19 emergency education funds are spent equitably, targeted at English learners, students of color, students from families with limited incomes, students with disabilities and others most impacted by educational inequities.

Please review the letters below, sent and signed by IDRA and our coalition partners, and use and adapt any recommendations that you find useful for your community. Contact Morgan Craven, IDRA’s national director of policy, advocacy and community engagement at for more information about these recommendations.

IDRA joined civil rights and advocacy organizations across the country to send a letter to U.S. congressional leaders, urging them to allocate supplemental funding for Title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to ensure programs for English learners receive more funds. English learners face educational inequities that have been made worse by COVID-19 and inadequate at-home learning resources. See letter.

The Texas Legislative Education Equity Coalition (TLEEC) sent a letter this week to Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath, and Commissioner of Higher Education Harrison Keller, urging the leaders to distribute and monitor federal COVID-19 emergency education relief funds equitably. TLEEC recommends that state leaders do the following:

  • Target emergency relief funds equitably, including to support compensatory education and summer learning programs;
  • Support the social, medical, mental health and nutritional needs of students;
  • Ensure accountability and transparency in the use and distribution of funds;
  • Maintain important connections with families and students and dedicate funding to identify families with which schools have had no or little contact during the crisis;
  • Create equity-focused task forces and workgroups to advise state leaders on the needs of historically-marginalized communities;
  • Ensure community college students receive supports; and
  • Ensure protections for English learners.

TLEEC warned that COVID-19 has highlighted and worsened existing educational inequities for English learners, students of color, students from families with limited incomes, students experiencing homeless, students with disabilities, and others. See letter.

IDRA sent a letter to U.S. Congressional leaders with recommendations about the equitable use and distribution of future COVID-19 emergency education relief funds for schools and students. See letter.

The Texas Postsecondary Advocates Coalition published an open letter to Texas higher education leaders with recommendations on supporting college students impacted by COVID-19. See letter.

IDRA joined the Southern Education Foundation and other organizations to send a letter to the Georgia Governor and Superintendent of Education, urging them to distribute COVID-19 emergency education funds equitably. See letter.

IDRA developed recommendations for leaders in Southern states for how to use COVID-19 emergency education funds to address the unique needs of English learners, students of color, students from families with limited incomes and others in the South. See letter.


U.S. Department of Education Announces Rules for Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Funding

This week, the Department of Education released guidance and the application form for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSERF). This $13.2 billion fund is one of three major components of the Education Stabilization Fund in the federal CARES Act. The Department has committed to releasing funds to state education agencies within three days of receiving the short application form. Families and other advocates should urge their states and school districts to follow the recommendations from the letters above to ensure funds are distributed and used equitably.

Funds will be allocated based on Title I formulas in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) that primarily calculate funding based on the number and concentration of children living in poverty in the state. States must use the majority of funds to make subgrants to local education agencies, including public school districts and charter schools that serve as local education agencies, to help:

  • Comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act;
  • Ensure a coordinated effort to prevent, prepare for and respond to COVID-19;
  • Support school leaders to address the needs of their schools;
  • Support the unique needs, including summer learning needs, of children in families with low incomes, students with disabilities, English learners, migrant students, students of color, students experiencing homelessness and students in the foster care system;
  • Purchase technology to support “regular and substantive” online learning, including hardware, software and connectivity equipment;
  • Provide mental health services and supports; and
  • Plan and coordinate supports for students during school closures, including how to provide meals, provide technology for online learning, and ensure compliance with federal, state and local laws.

Read more about permissible uses for the CARES Act education funds on IDRA’s Learning Goes On web hub.

April 17, 2020 Edition

Update: The CARES Act and Federal COVID-19 Actions

IDRA is tracking and analyzing the newest COVID-19-related education policies from federal and state governments across the South. Below are recent announcements from the U.S. Department of Education.

Immediate Release of Higher Education Funding

The U.S. Department of Education announced the immediate distribution of a portion of the $14 billion Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (part of the CARES Act). The department released $6.28 billion for colleges to provide cash grants to students to cover expenses incurred due to COVID-19-related disruptions to their education, including course materials, technology, food, housing, healthcare and childcare.

Waivers of Federal Law

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos offered waivers of federal testing requirements soon after school closures began in March. Since then, every state has applied for and been granted testing waivers. Following the passage of the CARES Act, the federal stimulus package in response to the COVID-19 crisis, Secretary DeVos announced a similar “streamlined process” to allow states to request waivers of other federal education requirements.

The U.S. Department of Education released a two-page application template with checkboxes for states to submit waiver requests.  States must also checkboxes to assure compliance with other applicable federal laws, the provision of notice and comment periods, and efforts to mitigate any negative effects of the requested waivers. The application does not require any additional information or a description of how the state will protect students and programs impacted by the waived requirements.

Specifically, the Department of Education invited states to request waivers in the following areas.

  • The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) limits how often local education agencies (such as school districts) can get approval to carry over a portion of unused Title I funds from one year to the next. With a waiver, state education agencies can approve requests to carry over more than 15% of unused Title I funds to the following year’s budget, even if the local education agency has been granted such approval within the past three years.
  • The General Education Provisions Act (GEPA) allows a one-year extension for allocation and use of the previous year’s federal funds for certain programs, including for improving basic education programs in schools with high numbers of students from families with low incomes and for serving migratory children, English learners and students experiencing homelessness. With a waiver, state and local education agencies can use federal funds awarded in 2018 for certain programs until September 30, 2021, without penalty. That includes programs for improving basic education programs in schools with high numbers of students from families with low incomes and for educating migratory children and English learners.
  • The Student Support and Academic Enrichment Program (SSAE) in Title IV of the ESSA requires needs assessments for local education agencies that receive funds; creates minimum spending requirements for programs that ensure all students have access to safe, healthy schools and well-rounded learning opportunities; and expands technology and digital literacy programs and infrastructure. With a waiver, local education agencies will no longer have to dedicate specific portions of funds to each program goal and can instead use those funds for other purposes within the SSAE.
  • Title IV of the ESSA limits local education agency spending on technology infrastructure. With a waiver, agencies will no longer have a cap on these funds.
  • To increase effectiveness, ESSA defines professional development as sustained, collaborative, intensive, data-driven training. With a waiver, educators will be able to engage in one-time professional development opportunities.

Guidance and Application for the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund

The U.S. Department of Education released guidance and an application for the nearly $3 billion Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund. The GEER fund is one of the three large funds that make up the majority of education spending in the CARES Act. Governors can use the funds their states receive to support schools, including charter and private schools, and communities most impacted by COVID-19, as determined by their state education agency.

The Department of Education’s new guidance package includes:

  • A letter to state governors that emphasizes that the GEER grants are “extraordinarily flexible” and intended to support students, institutions of higher education (IHEs), education-related entities and schools, including charter schools and non-public schools.
  • A funds allocation table, detailing the methodology for calculating grants, with a chart showing the amount each state will receive.
  • A certification and agreement, which each state must submit to receive funds. This application requires governors to provide assurances, including that the state will comply with fund use requirements; provide reports detailing the use, monitoring and distribution of funds; and ensure that local education agencies that receive funds will provide equitable services to non-public schools in their districts. Governors also must provide information about the use of funds for remote learning, technology capacity, and development of new resources and best practices for remote learning.

Policy Recommendations

  • The U.S. Department of Education should develop application processes and requirements for funds and waivers that are responsive to the rapidly-changing needs of schools and states but that also require information about how educational entities will ensure the equitable use of funds and application of waivers. Before receiving funds or waivers, these entities should explain how they will protect and target resources for the students most likely to experience educational difficulties during this time, including students of color, students from families with limited incomes, English learners, students with disabilities, students experiencing homelessness, and others.
  • The Department of Education and state agencies should avoid the near-automatic, or “turnkey,” granting of waivers and closely monitor the effect of waivers on impacted students and programs. Federal and state agencies should collect, analyze and make public data about funding and programmatic changes due to waivers and should survey educators. Waivers should be rescinded immediately if negative impacts are found.
  • State and local education agencies and any other recipients of federal funds should comply with basic monitoring, accountability and transparency requirements to ensure monies are spent effectively and on the students who most need them. State agencies should provide guidance and tools to aid with these requirements and should regularly publish information about distribution and use of funds.

Even as policymakers make necessary procedural changes to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, they must protect the funds that have been dedicated to specific programs and student populations and the rules that govern the distribution, use and monitoring of those funds.

  • Charters and non-public schools that receive emergency and other program funds must be subject to accountability and transparency measures and all other rules governing the use of funds. In addition to directing emergency fund recipients to support charters and non-public schools, the Department of Education also recently released $65 million through the federal Charter School Program for creation and expansion of more than 100 charter schools. Nearly half of the funds – $31.6 million – will be distributed to three Texas Charter Management Organizations. Additionally, it is now more important than ever to ensure that other funds are not diverted away from traditional public schools that are struggling to support their students and will likely face future revenue losses due to the economic impacts of the pandemic.
  • Future COVID-19 federal legislation should increase program funding and emergency grants targeted for the students and families most impacted by the long-standing educational inequities exacerbated by the pandemic. Agencies, districts and schools should be required to develop robust engagement plans to regularly communicate with these students and families to assess needs and identify the most effective policies and practices.

April 9, 2020 Edition

Equity Concerns for English Learners in Response to COVID-19

As COVID-19 has disrupted almost all aspects of our society, state governments and the federal administration have rushed to respond to the educational impacts of the pandemic. Yet, these responses have not fully accounted for the implications of the virus on equity in education for English learners.

English learners are a large and growing portion of our country’s elementary and secondary school students. English learners make up about 10% of the U.S. student population and a growing proportion of students in the South. For example, in Texas, public schools educate over 1 million students designated as English learners, whose families speak over 130 languages. (U.S. Department of Education, 2020b; Sugarman, 2016; TEA, 2018)

Throughout our country’s history, many English learners had little or no access to high-quality, equitable education. Federal legislation for bilingual education in 1968 came after decades of schools segregating students whose home language was any beside English. For instance, educators across the Southwest physically punished students for speaking Spanish, segregated them into different classrooms or into completely separate and dilapidated facilities, and conflated language needs with special education status by tracking students away from general education classrooms (Miguel & Valencia, 1998).

Since then, several court decisions led to requirements for all schools serving English learners to provide some specialized instruction that is specifically adapted to address their needs (e.g., Lau vs. Nichols, 1974; Castañeda vs. Pickard, 1983). Educators draw on decades of research on effective policies and strategies for serving English learners (Cortez & Villarreal, 2009; Robledo Montecel, & Cortez, 2001).

Times of chaos, such as a pandemic or natural disaster, intensify and expose the daily inequities that English learners encounter in schools. For example, English learners experienced greater segregation in the New Orleans school system after Hurricane Katrina than before the storm (Weixler, et al., 2017). And families who speak any number of other languages may have difficulty accessing up-to-date information, educational materials, and resources.

The U.S. Department of Education, Congress and state education agencies issued guidelines that evolve daily for how schools should respond to COVID-19 (U.S. Department of Education, 2020a; TEA, 2020). However, at the time of writing, the federal administration has not issued clear guidelines on distance-learning for effective bilingual education or English as a second language (ESL) in response to the COVID-19 crisis, and responses from state education agencies remain varied (Education Commission of the States, 2020). This leaves educators and families without much guidance on how to adapt effective bilingual education to this new reality.

The very nature of distance-learning instruction for bilingual education and ESL presents its own challenges. Language is fundamentally interactive. Effective English language instruction requires verbal learning, listening comprehension and engaging dialogue (Goldenberg, 2008).

Even if school districts leverage every resource at their disposal, this new reality of quarantine-induced distance learning has serious implications for educational equity for English learners.

Policy Recommendations

  • The U.S. Department of Education and Congress must ensure that federal guidelines and legislation include protections for existing funding and allot additional funding supports, materials, high-quality instruction and appropriate and timely assessments for English learners.
  • Educational continuity plans – either online or through paper packets – should continue sound language acquisition practices, such as bilingual materials, explicit language and content objectives, comprehensible input, and differentiated assessments.
  • Technology and other educational continuity expenditures resulting from federal waivers must include bilingual resources, materials and bilingual computer accessibility tools, e.g., first-language operating systems and menus. This should also include access to professionals who speak the home language represented at affected campuses. These translators will help schools and parents communicate about certain documents that schools must have, such as language proficiency assessment committee (LPAC) documents, admission, review and dismissal (ARD) recommendations and letters on graduation requirements.
  • States should increase the funding for English learners as this educational disruption will have long-lasting effects.
  • Dissemination of educational continuity resources must provide instructions in students’ home languages. This includes bilingual procedures for checking out tablets and other equipment.
    In states where parents must sign off on curriculum changes, such as graduation plans, schools must make every effort to speak directly with parents in their home language by leveraging translators.
  • State governments must develop clear, accessible and multimedia bilingual education and ESL guidelines that do not solely rely on internet access.
  • School districts can provide ways for families to engage with the at-home instructional materials through suggested activities, interactive projects and instructional guides for families to work through academic content with students. Additional follow-up communication with families from teachers and educational staff via phone, mail and electronically helps to ensure that students’ language and instructional needs continue to be met.

As normal school operations and our daily routines are thrown into disarray from COVID-19, either due to precautionary measures like social distancing or from health complications related to the virus, we cannot lose sight of the importance of English learners’ education and ensuring high-quality education for all students.


Cortez, A., & Villarreal, A. (2009). Education of English Language Learners in U.S. and Texas Schools – Where Were, What We Have Learned and Where We Need to Go from Here – A 2009 Update. Intercultural Development Research Association.

Education Commission of the States. (2020). COVID-19 Updates: State Policy Responses and Other Executive Actions to the Coronavirus in Public Schools.

Goldenberg, C. (2008). Teaching English Language Learners. American Educator.

Miguel, Jr., G.S., & Valencia, R. (1998). From the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo to Hopwood: The Educational Plight and Struggle of Mexican Americans in the Southwest. Harvard Educational Review.

Robledo Montecel, M., & Cortez, J.D. (August 2001). Successful Bilingual Education Programs: Criteria for Exemplary Practices in Bilingual Education. IDRA Newsletter.

Sugarman, J. (2016). Funding an Equitable Education for English Language Learners in the United States. Migration Policy Institute.

Texas Education Agency. (2018). Pocket Edition Statistics, 2017-2018.

Texas Education Agency. (2020). Coronavirus (COVID-19) Support and Guidance.

U.S. Department of Education. (2020a). COVID-19 (“Coronavirus”) Information and Resources for Schools and School Personnel.

U.S. Department of Education. (2020b). English learners: Demographic Trends. Office of English Language Acquisition.

Weixler, L., Barrett, N., & Harris, D. (2017). Changes in New Orleans School Segregation after Hurricane Katrina. Education Research Alliance.

April 3, 2020 Edition

Students in Southern States Face Short- and Long-Term COVID-19 Challenges

Federal, state, and local governments and agencies are working to address the public health, education and economic crises sparked by COVID-19. Many actions necessarily focus on the immediate needs of communities and mitigation of the spread and effects of the virus. Officials cite the need to balance public health with economic concerns such as layoffs and food and housing insecurity.

There also will be long-term changes that will come from this crisis. These changes will likely impact certain students and regions, like the U.S. South, more than others. Evidence indicates that COVID-19 will be more deadly among younger people in the South based on the levels of pre-existing poor health conditions and persistent poverty (Newkirk, 2020). And, recent history shows that the economic impacts will also be felt more in the South, particularly in schools.

Without targeted resources and equitable school funding policies, many traditionally-marginalized students – including English learners, students of color, students living in poverty and students in rural communities – will bear the brunt of a COVID-19-related economic crisis.

The Economy and School Funding in the South

Following the Great Recession in 2008, states across the country cut education resources, leaving school districts with massive funding gaps that many were unable to fill with local property taxes or other revenue sources. These funding gaps hit southern states particularly hard.

Nearly 10 years after the recession peaked, many states were still struggling to get back to pre-recession per-pupil spending levels. Of the 10 states with the most significant decreases in per-pupil spending between 2008 and 2015, six are in the South: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas (Leachman, Masterson, & Figueroa, 2017).

Even prior to the Great Recession, per-pupil spending levels in the South have lagged behind the rest of the country for years. As of 2017, all southern states were below the national average for per-pupil education spending.

The Impact of COVID-19 on the South

Like the Great Recession, an economic downturn resulting from COVID-19 could have particularly dire effects for school districts in southern states, most of which already fail to provide enough resources to students, especially traditionally marginalized students.

  • Children living in the South are more likely to live below the federal poverty line than in any other region. In every southern state but Virginia, more than 20% of children live in poverty (Children’s Defense Fund, 2019).
  • Students of color make up a majority of the pre-K to 12th-grade population in the South. Black and Latino students each comprise approximately one in four students enrolled in public schools in the region (NCES, 2019).
  • English learner student populations are increasing in the South. Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee saw their English learner populations more than double between 2000 and 2015 (Sugarman, 2016). Texas educates nearly 1 million English learners (Showalter, et al., 2019).
  • Nationwide nearly one in five students (more than 9.3 million) attend a rural school (Showalter, et al., 2019). Forty-two percent of these students reside in the South (NCES, 2013). About 30% of rural Latino students and 36% of rural Black students attend a school in which more than three in four students is eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch, while just over 7% of White students do (NCES, 2014).

Schools serving these students often lack equitable educational resources, including safe and modern facilities, up-to-date technology and materials, well-qualified and experienced teachers, and sufficient funding (Duncombe, 2017; Levalley, 2018). Many students also do not have access to the new at-home, online learning systems that school districts adopted in response to COVID-19 school closures and social distancing requirements.

An economic downturn resulting from COVID-19 could destabilize revenue sources, shrink state budgets and lead to education budget cuts, which would worsen deeply entrenched inequities in schools.

Over the next several months, states will prepare budgets that must respond to the ongoing COVID-19 challenges. Several southern states already appropriated money from their reserve funds to cope with the immediate COVID-19 threat, while others are forecasting revenue shortfalls based on the number of their residents out of work and not traveling or contributing to the states’ economies (Loughead, et al., 2020).

Given this context, it is vitally important for states to protect education funding as much as possible to ensure educational quality. Any cuts must consider the particular challenges and needs of marginalized students.

Policy Recommendations 

State and local policymakers should:

  • Create budgetary processes responsive to the needs and input of families of color, English learner families, families with low incomes and rural families;
  • Equitably distribute COVID-19 relief funds to school districts based on students’ needs and the costs to ensure they have access to resources, services and supports;
  • Use state emergency funds and identify stable revenue sources to ensure students have the resources they need in the near- and long-term;
  • Limit education budget cuts and ensure that any cuts are made equitably and do not overly burden already under-funded low- and moderate-wealth schools; and
  • Adopt measures and allocate funds to address resource gaps that result from the COVID-19-related shift to at-home learning. Funds should be distributed equitably to ensure all students have access to supports they need, including digital resources, social-emotional supports, targeted academic and learning assessment resources and summer learning opportunities.


Children’s Defense Fund. (2019). Child Poverty in America 2018: State Analysis.

Duncombe, C. (2017). Unequal Opportunities: Fewer Resources, Worse Outcomes for Students in Schools with Concentrated Poverty. The Commonwealth Institute.

Leachman, M., Masterson, K., & Figueroa, E. (2017). A Punishing Decade for School Funding. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Levalley, M. (January 2018). Out of the Loop: Rural Schools are Largely Left Out of Research and Policy Discussions, Exacerbating Poverty, Inequity, and Isolation. Center for Public Education, National School Boards Association.

Loughead, K., Cammenga, J., Walczak, J., Boesen, U., Parks, T., Shuster, R., & DeHart, J. (2020). Tracking State Legislative Responses to COVID-19. Tax Foundation Report.

NCES. (February 2019). Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups, Indicator 6: Elementary and Secondary Enrollment. [Note: NCES definition of the South includes Oklahoma, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware.]

NCES. (Fall 2013). Table A.1.a.-4: Percentage distribution of enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools, by school urban-centric 12-category locale and state or jurisdiction, Rural Education in America. National Center for Education Statistics.

NCES. (Fall 2014). Table 216.60. Number and percentage distribution of public-school students, by percentage of students in school who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, school level, locale, and student race/ethnicity, Digest of Education Statistics. National Center for Education Statistics.

Newkirk II, V. (April 2, 2020). “The Coronavirus’s Unique Threat to the South,” The Atlantic.

Showalter, D., Hartman, S.L., Johnson, J., & Klein, B.  (2019). Why Rural Matters 2018-2019: The Time is Now. Rural School and Community Trust.

Sugarman, J. (2016). Funding an Equitable Education for English Language Learners in the United States. Migration Policy Institute.

U.S. Census Bureau. (2020). Annual Survey of School System Finances, 2003-2017.

March 27, 2020 Edition

An Overview of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act

Both houses of the U.S. Congress passed a $2 trillion package called the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the largest economic stimulus bill in the country’s history. President Trump is expected to sign it. The main provisions will:

  • Provide one-time payments of $1,200, plus $500 per child, to individuals who had an adjusted gross income of less than $75,000 in 2019. Payments will be made, at a scaled rate, to individuals who made up to $99,000.
  • Provide $100 billion in grants to the hospital industry to address immediate equipment and other needs and lost income due to the pandemic.
  • Provide an additional $600 per week to individuals who receive state unemployment benefits.
  • Allow the U.S. Department of the Treasury to distribute $500 billion to struggling industries (like airlines), cities and states. That includes $8 billion for local governments losing tax revenue.

Importantly, the bill injects funding into the federal and state education systems through an Education Stabilization Fund of more than $30 billion. The fund includes $13.5 billion for elementary and secondary schools, $14.25 billion for higher education, and $3 billion for qualifying states to use to meet immediate needs as they “prevent, prepare for and respond to coronavirus.” The bill encourages agencies, states and institutions that receive funds to continue to pay employees and contractors during school closures.

The bill divides the majority of monies in the Education Stabilization Fund into three main parts.

The Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund ($3 billion)

The U.S. Secretary of Education will make Emergency Education Relief grants to governors of states who apply and are approved for the funds. Funds will be allocated based on the population of people ages 5-24 years old and on the population of children ages 5-17 living in poverty or foster care. States can use funds to:

  • award emergency grants to school districts and colleges most impacted;
  • support education-related entities that carry out services for students;
  • provide childcare and early childhood education services;
  • provide social and emotional support; and
  • protect education-related jobs.

Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund ($13.5 billion)

Through an application process, the U.S. Secretary of Education will make emergency relief grants to state education agencies. Funds will be allocated based on Title I formulas in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) that primarily calculate funding based on the number and percentage of children living in poverty in the state. States must use the majority of funds to make subgrants to local education agencies (such as school districts) to help:

  • Comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act;
  • Ensure a coordinated effort to prevent, prepare for and respond to COVID-19;
  • Support school leaders to address the needs of their schools;
  • Support the unique needs, including summer learning needs, of children in families with low incomes, students with disabilities, English learners, migrant students, students of color, students experiencing homelessness and students in the foster care system;
  • Purchase technology to support “regular and substantive” online learning, including hardware, software and connectivity equipment;
  • Provide mental health services and supports; and
  • Plan and coordinate supports for students during school closures, including how to provide meals, provide technology for online learning, and ensure compliance with federal, state, and local laws.

Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund ($14.25 billion)

The CARES Act allows the U.S. Secretary of Education to distribute funds to institutions of higher education (IHEs), including colleges and universities:

  • Funds will be distributed to IHEs and apportioned by percentages of full-time students who receive Federal Pell Grants and are not exclusively in distance education courses. Additional funds will be distributed to schools specifically for coronavirus-related needs and to defray costs associated with school closures and other responses to the pandemic, including providing food, housing, course materials, healthcare, and childcare.
  • IHEs can use the funds to cover costs associated with coronavirus-related changes to the delivery of instruction but must use at least half to provide emergency financial aid to students for expenses related to food, housing, course materials, healthcare, childcare and technology.

Additionally, the CARES Act allows people to defer federal student loan payments for six months without penalty or interest and waives Pell Grant attendance requirements. It also provides funding for cleaning and disinfecting schools, ensures access to school meal programs through funds for child nutrition programs, increases benefits for Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients, and provides additional funding for childcare subsidies for families with low incomes.

While critical, the funding in the CARES Act is far less than what many advocates, education agencies, and institutions of higher education have identified they need to provide a robust and comprehensive response to the coronavirus and support the students and families most impacted. It is critical for communities to urge state education agencies and local school districts to spend new funds in equitable ways. Policymakers, administrators and educators must identify, prioritize and address the needs of students of color, students from families with low incomes, English learners, migrant students, and students with disabilities, among others, through effective supports, programs and equipment. Without proper spending and oversight, this new infusion of funds could simply exacerbate existing inequities between students.

Links for more information

Ways Colleges Should Support their Students During this Time

  • Maintain open, frequent and responsive communication with all members of the campus community about institutional responses, state updates, and federal policy changes to financial aid and loan repayments.
  • Ensure that alumni, particularly recent graduates, also receive information about changes to loan repayment procedures.
  • Consider permitting students with specific needs or who cannot relocate to remain in residential arrangements.
  • Continue to provide dining services in modified arrangements for local students.
  • Continue any university-provided health insurance coverage through the summer months, regardless of work or enrollment provisions. Make college health services available online and provide mental health resources to the campus community.
  • Consider equitable internet access for faculty and students when deciding whether to modify or cancel instructional platforms for the remainder of the spring and summer semesters.
  • Maintain federal and state protections for students under the ADA, Higher Education Act, and FERPA.

Texas Colleges Respond to COVID-19

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, students entering or enrolled in college should be able to continue to pursue their education and stay up-to-date with their institution’s changing policies. This edition of IDRA’s Learning Goes On reviews responses from Texas colleges to the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

What is the current status of Texas colleges and universities?

The Center for Disease Control issued guidelines for colleges to manage student residences, events, online courses and information-sharing. Each institution and its campuses separately determine of how to manage institutional responses to COVID-19. Colleges across the state have adjusted their spring schedules and, for many, this means extended spring breaks and transitions to online coursework, requirements for residential students to move off-campus, and canceled or postponed commencement ceremonies.
The majority of Texas colleges and universities closed campus offices through at least early April, if not through the end of the spring semester in May. Many transitioned to online-only instruction and have limited on-campus personnel. Several institutions canceled athletic events and student gatherings, and some canceled or postponed commencement ceremonies. Many colleges that offer study-abroad programs returned traveling students to the United States and canceled future abroad programs for the time being.

As information changes rapidly, so do institutional responses. Follow the most recent college and university responses on IDRA’s new interactive dashboard (see below). The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) also maintains a webpage with state and institutional updates.

How do federal and state changes to higher education guidelines impact college access and financial aid?

Students who plan to enroll in college should contact their school’s admissions and financial aid offices for specific information. Deadlines, fees and scheduled summer enrollment and registration programs may change in response to the pandemic.

K-12 school districts and college counselors should still counsel graduating high school students to make progress toward postsecondary goals even if these vary by institution. The ACT and SAT were moved to late spring testing dates.

For high school students taking the Texas Success Initiative (TSI) Assessment for college and dual-credit enrollment, THECB encourages schools to offer the online exam option through College Board’s testing platform, Examity.

The FAFSA deadline for the 2020-21 school year remains June 30, 2021, as is the Texas Application for State Financial Aid (TASFA). However, since the IRS extended the 2019 tax filing deadline to July 15, 2020, applicants should remember to update their tax information as it is available to ensure they can access any priority funds with accurate financial information.

The U.S. Department of Education announced suspension of required payments and collection actions on federal student loans for two months and that interest would not accrue on outstanding loans for 60 days, effective March 13, 2020. Colleges and universities may still pay students who receive Federal Work Study as part of their financial aid package even if all instruction and operations moved online but only if the changes pertain to the current term of aid. Texas waived regulations in order to allow the Texas College Work-Study Program to continue despite school closures and transitions to remote learning.

How do federal, state and institutional changes impact college students?

COVID-19 affects the academic, social-emotional health and financial livelihoods of college students.

Colleges and their students struggle with the digital divide. Many students rely on computers on campus to complete their work if they do not have access to their own computers. Faculty have varying levels of access to and training on web-based platforms. For campuses that already suffered disparities in online equipment and reliable internet access, campus closures in response to the virus exacerbate already inconsistent access to instructors and course material. Students with disabilities face additional challenges if they require special accommodations. Colleges must continue to provide instructional and other accommodations consistent with protections under Section 504, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

Social-Emotional Health
Disruptions for students carry significant social, emotional and psychological impacts. For college students, particularly those who are low-income, first-generationLGBTQ students, and others who generally rely on their college for services (such as work placements, medical services, food and dining, residence, childcare), these transitions to off-campus and/or online instruction and living may be especially disruptive and cause distress, instability and trauma. Colleges should transition their mental health services to online support systems, if possible, and send frequent communications and resources to students and staff.

Many college students already face food insecurity, housing instability and financial hardship. Colleges often serve as full-service organizations for students through housing, work assignments, on-site childcare, medical and health services, dining services, recreation centers, and other facilities and benefits. Colleges should: make accessible via phone and online all of their student emergency and support services; provide access to meals for any local students and/or students residing on campus for special circumstances; and coordinate with local municipal offices and community organizations to identify alternative sources for essential student services and incorporate these in frequent institutional communications. Colleges should keep students’ financial aid as consistent as possible based on their FAFSA and TASFA information, enrollment status and adjusted costs of attendance.

March 21, 2020 Edition

Testing for Students in Texas & Equity Implications

Texas Governor Greg Abbott waived the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) requirements for the 2019-20 school year and instructed the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to request a waiver for federal testing requirements from the U.S. Department of Education. TEA, State Board of Education, and Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board are posting guidance on these changes on a daily basis. Here is the most important information about testing, as of March 20, 2020.

How have testing requirements changed?

All STAAR assessments have been canceled, including:

  • Grades 3-8: Reading and Mathematics
  • Grades 4 and 7: Writing
  • Grades 5 and 8: Science
  • Grade 8: Social Studies
  • End-of-Course exams
  • STAAR Alternate 2 assessments for students with significant cognitive disabilities

Each district will determine whether fifth and eighth graders should advance to the next grade. TEA has instructed districts to consider teacher recommendations, course grades and other academic information to make this determination.

End-of-course (EOC) assessments for high school students are waived. Graduating seniors who still have EOCs to complete will be assessed by their school’s Individual Graduation Committee (IGC). These committees evaluate whether students have mastered a particular subject. Learn more about IGCs and how they work from IDRA’s IGC issue brief and infographic.

How will schools monitor students’ progress while they are learning from home?

STAAR Interim Assessments are online testing instruments that will be available to school districts at no cost until May 29, 2020. However, these assessments do not cover all subjects for all grades. Teachers and school districts that continue to serve students will likely have to determine how to track student progress and ensure that learning continues while schools are closed. Schools must expand their knowledge and use of assessment methods that do not rely on one measure to determine student achievement.

How will assessment changes impact English learners?

As part of its waiver request to the U.S. Department of Education, TEA asked for a waiver from federal progress assessment requirements for English learners. Districts still have the option to administer the Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System (TELPAS) to students until May 29.

TEA has not yet released specific guidance and resources about how schools can meet the instructional and assessment needs of English learners while schools are closed. The agency has announced that it is developing recommendations for alternative methods to determine language proficiency.

Many school districts are releasing learning resources online and in hard copy form to all students. These materials may be difficult for many families to access, including the families of English learners who may not have reliable, affordable internet services for even a brief period of time. Additionally, in-person listening and speaking are critical components of effective language programs. Without these communication options, many at-home learning methods developed for English learners will be insufficient.

What are the changes to Advanced Placement (AP) courses and college admissions tests?

The AP program is developing online testing, which will be available to students in May. Before then, free, online resources and review sessions will be made available.

The March and May SAT tests have been canceled (a decision made by the College Board). All registered students will receive a refund.

The April 4 ACT has been postponed to June 13.

The Texas Education Agency will extend college preparation assessment reimbursements to cover tests administered during the summer.

What is the impact of these changes on equitable access to education for all students?

Significant educational equity issues existed before COVID-19. Generations of students of color, poor students, English learners and students with disabilities have not had access to the resources, instructional materials, high-quality teachers and facilities they need. These inequities will persist and perhaps worsen during the current public health and economic crisis. We must remain watchful and involved in our schools and communities to ensure all students have access to learning opportunities and life’s necessities.

Education agencies and school districts across the country can do the following…

  • Ensure sustained and equitable access to coursework, instruction, activities and assessments in a variety of modes and formats.
  • Provide instructional supports and resource repositories for teachers so that all districts can continue to serve students.
  • Continue to engage families with updated messaging on health and safety practices, Census 2020 outreach, and supplemental educational materials.
  • Ensure that waivers do not negatively impact the civil rights of students.
  • Limit waivers and adaptations only to those that are necessary to ensure the health and safety of school communities.
  • Provide clear guidance to teachers on the most effective ways to support students with specific educational needs, including English learners.

Links for more information

The School Meal Finder provides information about where students can access meals

TEA’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Support and Guidance

TEA Notice to School Administrators about Student Assessments

TEA Assessment Guidance (updated March 19, 2020)

The College Board’s SAT Coronavirus Updates, including access to free, online practice tests and resources and information about AP testing

The ACT April 2020 National Exam COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions