Public schools are in a deep funding crisis. What steps can the Biden administration take to ensure they get the funding needed to support students during this pandemic and beyond? Rady: The most immediate step for the Biden administration to take is to make sure that the $60 billion toward education that was allocated in the most recent COVID relief package is quickly allocated to states and districts and institutions of higher education. This is four times the amount of money that was appropriated via the CARES Act. Getting money out the door and making sure that it's going where it needs to go—that means where it's needed the most—is absolutely critical for the new administration. On top of that, we saw that there wasn't state and local relief included in this most recent package. What that means is state and local governments are seeing this huge looming budget crisis, which will disproportionately impact school districts in low-income communities—school districts serving predominantly Black and brown students. President Biden has talked about COVID-19 response and relief being his No. 1 priority at the start of his administration, and this most recently passed package is a down payment toward additional relief. The Biden administration will need to usher through Congress substantial additional relief to schools and state and local governments, so they are not forced to fire teachers, counselors, and other personnel who are essential to helping kids overcome the widespread trauma and learning loss brought on by the pandemic.
What should the Biden administration do to address the digital divide, which is disproportionately harming the learning of low-income students and students of color? Verlin: This is a resource and logistics issue. There is bipartisan consensus from rural schools, schools on native lands, schools on tribal lands, and urban schools on how the Biden administration can and should use federal dollars to help put devices in the hands of students. The issue of broadband access is trickier because it's an issue of infrastructure. However, it will almost certainly be part of any large scale infrastructure package, which seems inevitable considering “Build Back Better." White: We know that focusing resources on access to technology is not enough, but access to internet connectivity, computers, and other modern learning tools is a necessary element in achieving educational equity. With my experience attending rural schools in Virginia and teaching kindergarten in Memphis, Tennessee, I witnessed the disheartening outcomes resulting from a lack of adequate technology and broadband access needed for high-impact instruction. Making additional, substantive investments in improving and expanding our country’s high-speed broadband infrastructure is critical to closing preexisting gaps in K-12 access to learning that have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. A key component of this effort, in partnership with the newly-shifted Congress, is ensuring that the Biden administration works to bolster the FCC’s E-Rate program, which is central to providing internet connectivity and technology to millions of students across the country. Modernizing the program to not only meet the current moment, but also proactively establishing safeguards and standing up supports that target our nation’s most historically underserved communities that feel the impact of the digital divide the most, is essential.