Morgan Craven, J.D. • IDRA Newsletter • January 2021 •

Morgan Craven photoFederal agencies are preparing for new leadership, staff and policy priorities of the Biden-Harris administration. IDRA urges incoming policymakers to adopt a number of federal education reforms listed below that will benefit historically-marginalized communities, including students of color, those from families with limited incomes, emergent bilingual students, those who face gender-based discrimination, and immigrant students.

Ensure an Equitable Educational Response to COVID-19

COVID-19 has disrupted educational access for millions of students, schools and families across the country. IDRA recommends federal policymakers do the following.

  • Immediately allocate emergency relief funds to address projected revenue shortfalls that will impact public schools and colleges. Federal relief funds can help states minimize or avoid cuts to education budgets. The U.S. Department of Education should use its own emergency (“rainy day”) funds, identify new and stable revenue sources for public education, and prioritize serving historically-marginalized students in its spending.
  • Immediately allocate emergency relief funds specifically to address new COVID-19 costs, including those related to addressing learning gaps, the digital divide (connectivity, devices, digital literacy training), and physical safety of students and teachers.
  • Require and enforce supplemental – not supplanted – maintenance-of-effort and maintenance-of-equity provisions for all federal relief funds. These requirements ensure state and local fund recipients do not shirk their responsibility to invest in public education. They also protect funding for students from families with limited incomes, emergent bilingual students, students with disabilities, students experiencing homelessness, and others who most need resources in their schools, especially if states cut their education budgets.
  • Give states flexibility and guidance to report assessment data based on formative assessment systems and other measures that do not penalize students and schools. We must have information about how students are faring during COVID-19 to effectively address learning gaps, protect student civil rights and allocate sufficient resources. The U.S. Department of Education should allow states some flexibility to measure and report teaching and learning in different ways for the 2020-21 school year and should encourage them to develop statewide formative assessment systems to use beyond the pandemic.

Provide Federal Resources Equitably and Incentivize Fair School Funding

Often, school funding formulae reinforce the inequitable distribution of resources to schools and rely on local property values and unstable state revenue sources to fund schools. These factors exacerbate racial and socioeconomic segregation and perpetuate a long history of inequitable access to resources for students of color, students living in poverty and students’ families. IDRA urges federal policymakers to do the following.

  • Increase funding for Title I of the Every Student Succeeds Act so that schools have access to materials, training and other resources to ensure excellent educational opportunities for all students. An increase in Title I funding should be coupled with an equity-focused review of current distribution formulae and robust, up-to-date guidance from the U.S. Department of Education.

Foster Safe and Culturally-Sustaining Schools that Do Not Rely on Harmful Discipline and Policing

The federal government should actively pursue changes to federal guidance, funding, data collection, and civil rights investigations and enforcement to protect students and foster safe and culturally-sustaining school climates. Federal policymakers should do the following.

  • Issue a revised version of the 2014 school discipline guidance issued by the Obama administration.
  • Reject the findings of the Trump administration’s school safety commission that inappropriately and inaccurately claimed incidents of targeted school violence were linked to efforts to reduce use of exclusionary school discipline and policing.
  • Direct federal departments charged with addressing violations of students’ civil rights to adopt robust complaint investigation procedures. These departments must pursue investigations thoroughly, including in cases in which a school or education agency’s policies and practices have had a disparate impact on students of color or other historically-marginalized groups.
  • Increase funding for the people, personnel, and programs and practices that create safe and culturally-sustaining schools for all students. Specifically, funding should be allocated and incentives put in place for states to target the following.

People: Invest in robust family and student engagement programs and bilingual parent support specialists.

Personnel: Increase funding for counselors, social workers, nurses, school psychologists, and other mental and behavioral health professionals trained to support student and adult needs in school communities.

Programs and Practices: Expand the use of research- and evidence-based programs and practices that create stronger, culturally-sustaining schools and increase student academic success, attendance and self-concept.

  • Congress should ensure the federally-funded equity assistance centers are well-resourced and operated by experienced organizations that understand and follow the spirit of the landmark civil rights laws that gave birth to the centers. As the only federally-funded training and technical assistance providers focused specifically on civil rights, equity assistance centers can help to support schools and education agencies as they address the harms of systemic discrimination, recent violence at the U.S. Capitol, and efforts to vilify discussing and teaching about racial justice, discrimination and systemic inequities.
  • To effectively execute and monitor these changes, the U.S. Department of Education should be required to collect and publish data annually through the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC).

Ensure Excellent Educational Opportunities for Emergent Bilingual Students

Emergent bilingual students (often referred to as English learners) represent about 10% of all students in the country, but often they are missing from conversations about educational equity and federal funding, monitoring and civil rights protections. IDRA urges federal policymakers to do the following.

  • Continue to meet with civil rights and education equity organizations that focus on emergent bilingual students to develop a comprehensive platform of federal policies and a national network of federally-funded centers to improve educational opportunities for emergent bilingual students.
  • Increase formula grant funding in Title III of ESSA, which provides federal funds to states to serve emergent bilingual students, offer teacher training, and foster family and community engagement programs.
  • Strengthen the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) and the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition through increased funding and personnel.

Center Students and Families in Educational Leadership

IDRA recommends that federal policymakers invest in proven strategies that expand student and family leadership in education policy and practice, particularly during this time of widespread isolation between many schools and families. Specifically, IDRA recommends that policymakers do the following.

  • Urge Congress to immediately increase funding for Title I, Title III and other programs that support students and family engagement programs. Additional grant funding will help school districts plan and implement local strategies for ensuring student and family engagement.
  • Use grant funding to incentivize community-based school district governance and accountability strategies. These funds can be distributed through the U.S. Department of Education to support local accountability teams – made up of parents, students, educators and other community stakeholders – that are charged with developing plans to improve educational quality and access, collect data, and review and enforce implementation of strategies (Robledo Montecel, August 2011).

See IDRA’s letter for more details on these and other policy recommendations and news at our Federal Education Advocacy website ( Should you have any questions, contact Morgan Craven, J.D., National Director of Policy, Advocacy, and Community Engagement at


Robledo Montecel, M. (August 2011). IDRA Calls for Greater Federal Role in Education to Increase Excellence and Equity, IDRA Newsletter.

Morgan Craven, J.D., is the IDRA National Director of Policy. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at

[©2021, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the January 2021 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]