Education News

Six things Congress must still do to protect students, families during COVID crisis

Girl learning at home

By Amanda Menas

Educators across the country know that in order for students and school communities to recover from the emotional and financial crisis spurred by the coronavirus pandemic, legislators need to invest in the public education system now. 

People of color have suffered the worst consequences of the pandemic by every measure–from rates of illness and death to unemployment to food insecurity and even lack of access to distance learning. 

NEA is working hard to address those issues of equity and access.

On March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act was signed into law, providing direct payments to families, and addressing many urgent needs of our students, educators and schools. Specifically, the bill provides a six-month suspension of student loan payments, and an education stabilization fund. Congress took substantial steps to combat the health and economic crisis spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, but more must be done.

“We thank Congress for leading this bipartisan agreement but also want to be clear while it is another step forward, much more will be needed. We call on Congress to work together quickly on the next package and…prevent dramatic cuts from hitting our schools, impacting student services and ensure educators do not lose their jobs,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia about the $2.2 trillion stimulus package.

But Congress must do more. Under our current inequitable school funding system, moving to a large scale use of technology in preK–12 and post-secondary education will widen existing achievement gaps among students. School districts with lower income populations simply will not be able to provide the relevant digital tools and broadband access for all students. 

Here are six steps Congress can take to support all public school educators and students in the next bill:

The “Homework Gap”

Congress refused to provide adequate direct funding for WiFi hotspots, connection devices and mobile wireless service through the existing and successful E-rate program to help our students most in need. With tens of millions of students at home and educators seeking ways to deliver instruction, every student needs the technology to ensure they don’t fall behind. NEA advocates for $2 billion to address the digital divide too many students face, often referred to as the “homework gap.” Congress should correct this omission in its next relief package, much like Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer had proposed for this package.

Education Stabilization Fund

In order to counter the learning loss happening through school closures and prevent educator layoffs, Congress must provide more funding to states. NEA is asking for at least $175 billion to distribute to states to be used for public pre-K through post-secondary education to fill budget gaps caused by declining state revenues due to the national emergency. This funding will also help states address opportunity gaps for students from low-income families, students with disabilities, and English learners, among others.

Student debt relief

While the 6-month suspension on student loan payments will provide some much-needed relief to educators and others faced with crushing debt, more could — and should — be done. We believe student loan payments should be canceled not suspended, and, after the national emergency ends, at least $30,000 in student loan debt should be forgiven per student.

Medicaid 

All Americans need paid sick leave not just when they are sick, but when they need to care for incapacitated family members. With state budget shortfalls looming ever larger, the federal government needs to pay a bigger share of Medicaid costs to stave off cuts in education and other essential public services. COBRA should also be extended to provide relief to federal, state, and local employees.

Vote by mail

In order to protect everyone’s right to vote while ensuring public health and safety, steps must be taken to help states prepare for the election. The last bill provides funding for that purpose, including increasing the ability to vote by mail, and expanding early voting and online registration. The money provided thus far is not nearly enough to ensure every citizen actually has the opportunity to vote by absentee ballot or other means in November’s nationwide elections.

Census

Due to housing insecurity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the systemic under-counting of children in previous Census counts, funding needs to be allocated in the next federal bill to make sure college students displaced by COVID-19 who normally live on campus are counted. Additionally, Congress should increase virtual outreach efforts to make sure we are increasing Census survey return rates, including distribution of hotspots in the case of closure of public libraries. Funding is needed to send additional census forms to encourage houses to submit their information online or by mail. If houses do not respond by late-April, individuals will be required to go door-to-door, putting more people at risk of contracting COVID-19.

You can help push for this critical relief by emailing your representatives and senators to tell them our top legislative priorities for students, educators, and working families.

5 responses to “Six things Congress must still do to protect students, families during COVID crisis

  1. It’s good to see NEA address such issues as the digital divide and how it is impacted by the current COVID -19 crisis. It’s also good to see NEA urging Congress to support education in general and education systems that are economically impacted by our current crisis. But there is a more immediate issue of protecting students, teachers, teacher aides, bus drivers and cafeteria workers from the coronavirus itself. People are still dying and some states are ready to reopen schools and go back to business as usual. Many students are at a higher risk of infection and death because they have underlying health conditions like asthma and many adults that work in our schools are over 60 or are in some other way at high risk. I would like to see NEA urge state departments of education to put the brakes on.

    1. I agree that we should wait as a whole before reopening our public facilities to everybody.
      You don’t want to play senseless games with anybody’s life, especially not a child’s life!
      We should wait until they get a better handle on this pandemic. The numbers are still way too high for comfort!!!!!!

  2. Education is a essential process in the lives of our children in America.The structure of learning in America is out dated and in need of revising. To bring learning in schools up to date Technology online learning is essential to each household in America Internet in each household coast to coast.
    .

  3. This pandemic presents many challenges to all ages of citizens. Whether you live in an urban, suburban, or rural setting, connectivity to broadband internet access is even more important for communication, delivery of distance education for our children, and ability to obtain critical information. In the “Tale of 2 School Districts”, one has fewer students living poverty with higher access to internet/devices are implementing a robust, comprehensive online continuing education program with 80-90% student participation while the other district with higher poverty are unable to to do the same because the majority of their students lack access to online technology/devices.

    1. It is not enough to hand a device to a student and give them free internet. Some students will be ok, but others may need help in using it. In class, students usually help each other, but at home, students might have nobody to help.

      I retired a few years ago. When I was teaching, I did not have home internet because I did my work at school. If I were teaching today, I would need tech support to be able to teach from home. I’m guessing a lot of the older teachers may be considering retirement right now, because the new conditions make it stressful.

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