The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 or the ARPA, was signed into law last week by President Biden.
Some are calling ARPA, and its $170.3 billion dollars in funding, an unprecedented investment in public education. $125.4 billion for state K-12 public education programs and $39.6 billion to higher education. The amount of money allocated to K-12 and post-secondary education may be unprecedented but the programs and services and ways in which the money is to be spent are not.
The activities and programs designated in the ARPA bill are all too similar, even duplicative, to previous education acts that called for “sweeping changes” to address inequities. Like ARPA, those previous acts, most notably NCLB and ESSA, were unable to identify structural inequities because of the unconscious bias lens in which education policies and practices are filtered through. The time is now to demand real structural change that get at root causes of decades long inequities.
What does this bill say schools are supposed to do with precious taxpayer dollars?
$122,774,800,000 dollars for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) will be distributed to states. $800 million of these dollars must be directed towards identifying homeless children and youth and provide them with:
(1) Lost Learning Time: States shall reserve no less than 20 percent of their ESSER funding “to address learning loss by supporting the implementation of evidence-based interventions, such as summer learning, extended day, or extended school year programs, and ensure such interventions respond to students’ academic, social, and emotional needs and address the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on [students of color, students from families experiencing low-incomes, students with disabilities, English language learners, migrant students, students experiencing homelessness, and students in foster care].” H.R.1319 - American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Sec. 2001. ESSER Fund
(2) And the remaining dollars are to be used for any activity authorized by ESSA, IDEA, Adult and Education and Family Literacy Act, and the Carl Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.
Below is an illustrative example of the ESSER funds received and how those dollars would be allocated in a state – this example is California. The calculations are courtesy of Learning Policy Institute.
State's Total Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funding
LEA Funding for Learning Recovery (20 Percent Minimum)
Minimum Grants to LEAs (90%)
Minimum - Learning Recovery Grants (5%)
Summer Enrichment (1%)
After-School Programs (1%)
Administrative Costs (Up to half of 1%)
Remaining State Funding (2.5%)
SOURCE: Learning Policy Institute analysis of Congressional Research Service calculations
Rather than spending $170 billion dollars on--
Improving coordination to better prepare, prevent, and response to corona virus let us invest in aligning current emergency agencies (FEMA, Homeland Security, WHO, etc.) with districts and schools to address any potential emergency beyond COVID-19.
Extending the school year, providing summer enrichment, or high-quality, evidenced-based tutoring programs to address “learning loss” let us invest the time to ensure that every student has a teacher or set of teachers, who use high quality curriculum infused with assessments FOR learning. In addition, the curriculum, materials and assessments are taught/implemented using a variety of modalities. AND invest the time to ensure every student has a teacher or set of teachers/staff who are highly effective as evidence by evaluation of practice using a research-based evaluation instrument.
Providing students and staff with safe school re-openings that align with public health guidance, training on sanitation and minimizing spread of infections, and purchasing sanitizing supplies let us invest the time to establish partnerships with local, state and federal building and permitting agencies that address and audit high quality healthy, universally designed school buildings. Invest in building or retrofitting school buildings so that every child attends a school that meets those requirements. AND invest the time to ensure every school is a welcoming and safe environment free of fear and intimidation.
Investing in wraparound supports, including through the use of community schools that have no breadth or depth let us design tribal, rural, urban, suburban wraparound prototypes, to be replicated locally, where members of the child’s natural support group and agency professionals come together to form a treatment team that will communicate and work to help the child overcome problematic mental health, physical and emotional issues.
Purchasing educational technology (including hardware, software, and connectivity) that aids in regular and substantive educational interaction between students and their classroom instructors, including low-income students and children with disabilities, which may include assistive technology or adaptive equipment let us invest in removing the disconnect between K-12 and colleges of education. Colleges of education, where potential educators garner the skill and will to do the jobs they are tasked with when they enter the profession, are the beginning of educator pipeline. This could mean embracing a medical training model of realistic, hands-on training by current practitioners; extending the time in pre-service practice and standardizing pre-service programs and certification at every college, university and across all 50 states and territories.
AND invest in designing and integrating anti-racist and anti-ableist practices and beliefs and its impact on student outcomes into pre-service and on-going job embedded in-service professional learning.
The arrival of COVID-19 shined a blaring light on the vast inequities in our healthcare system; justice system; economic system; and for the purposes of this commentary, the educational system. People took to the streets to expose the way that old systems are not working. People took to the streets to demand real change. It is imperative for the federal, state and local K-12 and higher education institutions to take a step back from
Let us move beyond the short-sighted method of developing policy which fits the old adage of the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting different results. Now more than ever, bold leadership is needed to develop transformative education policies which can lead us to eradicating racists and ableist practices that have eroded public education for decades.