Published On: Mon, Mar 29th, 2021

Shawn Joseph Explores the American Rescue Act’s Provisions for Education and Provides a Road Map Forward

In 2021, President Biden signed the American Rescue Act. This $1.9 trillion legislative act provides much-needed funding for federal, state, and local governments still reeling from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the essential parts of the American Rescue Act is its focus on school funding. The Act includes $165 billion in education funding, with $122.8 billion for K-12 public schools. Schools and students have experienced significant adverse effects due to the pandemic’s impact. This funding is a once in a lifetime opportunity to reimagine how we educate and support students.  Now, is the time to pay the moral debt owed to generations of historically marginalized students and make key investments that will move this nation forward.

Now is the time to focus on equity between school systems with different levels of resources and close opportunity gaps. 

Shawn Joseph, an experienced educator, and administrator shares four special focus areas that states and local school districts should consider when allocating this funding.

Joe Biden photo/donkeyhotey

1. Building the Capacity of Teachers and Principals

Quality teachers are the most important predictor of student success. A 2019 report by the Learning Policy Institute indicated that students of color and students performed better when teachers served them with higher qualifications.

Principals are another key element to student success. While a principal is not involved in daily hands-on work with students, they are instrumental to the school’s safety, health, and learning environment. 

The Wallace Foundation published a 2021 study detailing the importance of principals in determining student achievement. The study found that replacing a below-average principal with an above-average principal resulted in almost three more months of learning per year for students. Principals have broad influence over the schools they lead, and their support of classroom teachers and contribution to a positive working environment make teachers more effective.

2. High-Quality Tutoring in Reading and Mathematics

Wealthy families have access to high-quality reading and math tutoring for decades, but it has not been available to students from underrepresented communities. One way local school districts could use the American Rescue Act funding is to provide this type of tutoring for students at no charge. This would help remedy achievement gaps and help make up ground that students lost due to the coronavirus closures of 2020 and 2021.

Evidence-based methods for this type of tutoring support having the same tutor work with a student for an extended period of time, such as an entire school year. In the most effective model, an individual tutor works with only one or two students at a time. They use a skill-building curriculum that aligns with the reading or math curriculum used in the school system. Tutoring should also be targeted toward a student’s individual needs.

Overall, the tutoring must be based on state and local standards. It must be rigorous and consistent. School systems that put these tutoring systems into place using their American Rescue Act funding will see great strides in their students’ achievement.

3. Eliminating the Digital Divide

During the coronavirus pandemic, the inequity in access to broadband Internet services became acutely known. Many students from disadvantaged or low-income communities were not able to get online to attend classes. In addition to the lack of broadband access, students often did not have the computer equipment needed to perform their schoolwork. Some school districts were able to provide laptops or computers for their students, but many more were left to cobble together access in any way they could. Many students fell behind or entered truancy patterns because they could not access their schools’ online classes.

School systems should use their federal relief aid to ensure that their students can access online education and participate fully in shifting to an online model for homework and school progress.

4. Investment in Socio-Emotional Learning

While students have fallen behind in subjects like reading and math, these two subjects should not be the only focus of school recovery funding. Academic areas like the arts, sciences, technology, and engineering are important to supporting student success and athletics and financial literacy.

The coronavirus effectively shut down arts and athletics for many students in public schools. These activities are important outlets for students and support a well-rounded academic career. It is hoped that schools will use their American Rescue Act funding to help support these curriculum areas.

Dealing with an Educational Windfall

When rescue funds are distributed to local school districts, some districts may be tempted to spend on pet projects. As in the 1985 Richard Pryor film Brewster’s Millions, school districts may not take a well-considered position on equally benefiting all of their students. Unlike the wasteful and haphazard spending shown in the comedy film, schools must use this money wisely to impact all children. 

Special care must be taken to ensure that historically marginalized Black and Brown children are supported. Unless these students receive equitable support, their communities will continue to suffer from the effects of COVID-19 education loss due to school closures and the damaging effects of the digital divide.

As an educational leader, Shawn Joseph believes strongly that the needs of underserved communities should be given priority when allocating American Rescue Act funds to the schools. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “It did not cost the nation much to integrate. It did not cost the nation anything to give citizens the right to vote. However, we cannot get rid of poverty unless it costs the nation something, which has been America’s greatest problem. It’s an unwillingness to invest in the people who need it most.”

Wisely investing the funds provided by President Biden and Congress should be the top priority for educational systems across the United States. Addressing historical issues of inequity can help underprivileged communities recover from the coronavirus pandemic and support America’s students’ future growth and success.

Author: Jamie Cartwright

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