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February 15, 2021  |  Amy Rambo

Closing gaps and bridging divides: K-12 leaders are already aligned with new federal priorities.

The Digital Divide. The Homework Gap. Learning Loss. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed existing equity issues at the K-12 level and created even more. Moving forward, principals and thought leaders were already looking for ways to make sure every student had access to the tools needed to learn – and incoming Biden administration nominees seem to be in agreement.

Miguel Cardona, nominee to lead the Department of Education, served as Connecticut’s education commissioner, where he prioritized in-person learning whenever possible – alongside inclusivity initiatives to level the playing field for all students.

"We know we’re in a health pandemic. We’re also in an educational crisis," Cardona said late last year. “We know providing the right device, good connectivity in quality content will address that gap and provide those students who didn’t have it before the opportunity to have access to high–quality content."

Cardona isn’t the only Biden pick with a history of focusing on equitable access. President Biden recently named Jessica Rosenworcel as acting chair of the Federal Communications Commission. Rosenworcel is a strong proponent of closing the "homework gap" and has pushed for extending programs that would put broadband internet in every student’s home.

A report issued last summer estimated that 17 million U.S. students lack the internet service they need to fully participate in online learning. Coronavirus may have forced the issue, but some policy influencers are viewing the pandemic as an opportunity to propel real change amid this convergence of priorities.

"Shame on us if we don’t emerge from this with every student in America connected to broadband,” said Mike Magee, CEO of Chiefs for Change, an organization that represents superintendents overseeing more than 7 million children. Magee also told U.S. News & World report, “We have real opportunities to do a much better job for how we design high schools to support students and how we think about the daily schedule of a student or a calendar year."

Yearlong school calendars are definitely on the table, with the need to reverse learning loss creating a demand for innovation as principals weigh summer sessions to help students catch up. Education leaders are also seeking guidance on helping students with mental health struggles and economic insecurity at home.

The National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) has been conducting surveys to gauge the biggest challenges for schools, and its most recent findings line up with federal concerns: "Whether it is implementing procedures to keep staff and students safe, trying to ensure reliable home internet access for students, addressing student learning loss, or boosting mental health and trauma sensitivity supports for students, principals are having to do more with less," said NAESP director L. Earl Franks.

As states roll out their portions of the latest round of COVID–19 relief funding, passed by Congress in December, broad spending patterns related to the issues above are also emerging for K–12.

  • Safety upgrades: Schools heeding the Biden administration’s call to reopen this spring will be shelling out for cleaning supplies and services, PPE and even rapid COVID–19 testing for teachers and other staff.
  • Physical upkeep: Some districts will finally make postponed repairs to facilities, and many more will focus on updating their ventilation, heating and cooling systems to improve air quality. Leaders will also be thinking of ways to keep students spread out by redesigning or making better use of existing space.
  • Technology: Districts that have taken only partial steps to take learning online will be examining their patchwork solutions and looking for partnerships that can add value for nontraditional or underserved learners in the long term.
  • Playing catch-up: With kids falling behind, standardized testing has been postponed, but educators are exploring ways to make up for lost time, including targeted tutoring, after-school programs and summer school.

MCH has compiled CRRSA funding totals into a state–by–state, district–by–district breakdown. Find out more about how you can leverage this data, along with targeted contacts from our 5 million verified education emails.

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