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On April 2nd, NPR reported that roughly 9 out of 10 schoolchildren are out of school globally due to COVID-19.

On April 2nd, NPR reported that roughly 9 out of 10 schoolchildren are out of school globally due to COVID-19. In the United States, many children will be out for the rest of the year. Virginia, for example, has already announced that in-person instruction will not resume until fall, at the earliest. According to NPR, experts expect it will take current students at least two years to recover academically. In the meantime, drop-out rates will surge.

School districts have scrambled to roll out distance learning programs, although many students lack the resources to access education online. Low-income students may lack internet at home, and those with disabilities are unable to receive the accommodations they need. In an effort to fill the gaps, telecommunications companies have offered discounted service for some consumers, and certain districts have attempted to make WiFi more accessible via hotspots. Additionally, some teachers have chosen to provide printed worksheets and phone conferences. In the midst of widespread panic and disorder, however, it is impossible to scale these measures to meet the need completely.

Providing for millions of students is a job for the federal government, which has unfortunately given a muted response. In the recently passed CARES Act, $13.5 billion of the $2 trillion package was allotted to education. The funds could be used for a wide variety of needs, including distance learning initiatives, upon Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ approval. Even more concerning, the legislation allows states to fund education at a lower level than previous years “for the purpose of relieving fiscal burdens on states that have experienced a precipitous decline in financial resources.”

Analysis

Like every other facet of society, the American education system is struggling to hold itself together during this crisis. Individual districts have made admirable efforts to support students, but this amounts to a confused patchwork of resources nationwide. Yet again, the most vulnerable Americans will find themselves at a disadvantage. Low-income students from poor and rural areas will have the most obstacles to accessing education, while their schools will have the fewest resources to help.

Additionally, the $13.5 billion given to education in the CARES Act pales in comparison to the Obama Administration’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which gave schools $77 billion. The amount allotted in the CARES Act is essentially a pittance given the scale of the crisis; after all, the Obama-era legislation was enacted when schools were operating normally. Not to mention the fact that the oncoming recession may eclipse the 2008 financial crisis, constraining school budgets further.

In the wake of this recession, funding for education should be maintained, not decreased. The federal government’s refusal to guarantee this shows that students, particularly working-class ones, are not a major priority. Wealthier districts, blessed by the neighborhood’s tax base, will continue to provide an education of consistent quality. Meanwhile, poor districts that were already struggling will see their difficulties compounded under CARES Act provisions. In short, the cycle of educational inequality will only intensify, spurred on by the empty gesture of this stimulus package.

Resources

  • The Education Trust is working towards equitable education for low-income and POC students.
  • No Kid Hungry has outlined its response to the crisis and provided additional resources for those looking to help.
  • Khan Academy provides free, high-quality educational resources.
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