Chávez: To Improve Education for All Kids, the Biden Administration and New Congress Must Start Transforming Our Schools in the 1st 100 Days
After an election where a record-breaking 160 million Americans cast their votes, it is crucial for our nation to come together and emphasize the significance of democracy to the 50 million young students currently enrolled in public schools. This responsibility falls upon the new Biden-Harris administration, education secretary nominee Miguel Cardona, and members of Congress from both sides of the political spectrum. They must collaborate within the first 100 days of the administration to address the worsening challenges faced by public schools during the pandemic. We need to take immediate action to protect public schools from the detrimental effects of chronic underfunding and initiate a transformative process.
These challenges encompass various issues such as bridging the homework gap, particularly prominent in Native American, Black, Latino, and low-income households due to the lack of broadband access. Furthermore, we must confront the teacher shortage, promote racial equity, and cater to the increasing needs of special education students. Policymakers from both political parties must adopt a comprehensive approach to tackle these challenges.
It is high time we establish concrete plans to support a student-centered and personalized learning approach that equips the younger generation with indispensable 21st-century skills, enabling them to thrive in the real world.
The pandemic has disrupted traditional education methods. However, public schools have managed to remain accessible to students through alternative means, despite the closure of many physical locations. This would not have been possible without the unwavering dedication of teachers, principals, superintendents, counselors, and the numerous school boards across the nation. These admirable individuals have persevered, even in the face of attempts by the U.S. Department of Education to divert public tax funds to private schools during the early months of the pandemic.
Although public schools emerged victorious in that particular battle, there is an urgent need for emergency relief funding to address the pandemic’s impact. These funds should support in-person and high-quality online learning, legal and mental health services, as well as student meals, both currently and in the future.
The stakes are incredibly high, which is why the National School Boards Association (NSBA) and state associations appeal to the federal government to provide the necessary resources and flexibility to meet the demands of our transformative movement, "Public School Transformation Now!" This initiative will be the primary campaign that NSBA will focus on in 2021 and beyond.
This campaign unites national education leaders who advocate for a long-term transformation of public schools to cater to the unique needs of each child. This encompasses exceptional educators who are trained in modern teaching methods, effective time management, and the provision of digital learning tools that can adapt to students’ requirements, whether in the classroom or at home. While the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a shift in our perception of schools, students, and the role of technology in innovative teaching, we must go beyond these changes. We must reimagine the future of education and address the issues exposed by the pandemic.
For instance, rural communities, like the small farming town in Arizona where I grew up, face challenges such as lack of broadband connectivity, declines in teacher recruitment and retention, decreasing enrollment, and dwindling state budgets. These obstacles place students in these communities at a greater disadvantage compared to their peers in more densely populated areas.
These challenges transcend political parties and affect regions that have voted for both Democrats and Republicans. Therefore, a bipartisan approach is essential to ensure access to broadband at schools and homes, as well as providing funding for innovation, new learning models, and a renewed focus on equity. We must strive for equal opportunities for all students to succeed.
To achieve this, it is imperative to address racial inequities in education. The National School Boards Association has launched the Dismantling Institutional Racism in Education (DIRE) initiative, which aims to assist state school boards associations and other education leaders in tackling these inequities. We anticipate utilizing DIRE as a valuable resource as Congress works on legislation pertaining to equity issues.
Moreover, the transformation of public schools requires support for special education, students with disabilities, and their families. The National School Boards Association and state school boards associations across the country emphasize the need for full funding and flexibility in implementing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). When IDEA was enacted three decades ago, the federal government pledged to fund 40 percent of the average per-pupil expenditure for special education. Regrettably, this promise remains unfulfilled, with current funding at a dismal 13 percent. It is high time for federal leaders to honor their commitment and protect the most vulnerable children in our education system.
Some measures have already gained bipartisan consensus and can be swiftly passed by Congress and sent to the President’s desk within the first week of the new administration. One such measure is the Supporting Students With Disabilities During COVID-19 Act, which would allocate billions of dollars for state grants through IDEA and early childhood education programs. This would immediately assist students who have been disproportionately affected by the crisis while also supplementing state budgets that are currently struggling due to revenue shortages.
The upcoming administration and Congress will engage in numerous conflicts, but they should prioritize fully financing the enhancement of public schools to ensure a better future for our children’s education. Anna Maria Chávez holds the position of executive director and chief executive officer at the National School Boards Association, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that works towards equity and excellence in public education by advocating for local school board governance. Stay informed about stories like these by subscribing to Newsletter and receive them directly in your inbox.