CCSSO Letter Seeks Billions More in Funding to Open Schools Safely

Jerry Ashworth
June 30, 2020 at 14:58:47 ET
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As school systems nationwide continue to evaluate their plans for providing classes this fall in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the amount of federal funding needed to assist them in ensuring they can do so safely is staggering.

In a recent letter to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Clarissa Miller, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), explained that CCSSO estimates school systems will need additional flexibility within the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) (Pub. L. 116-136), as well as between $158.1 billion and $244.6 billion in total additional funding to reopen school buildings safely and serve all students in the next academic year. Yes, this is in addition to the billions of dollars in funding already provided under the CARES Act.

“We recognize the response to COVID-19 is an ever-evolving situation that will have long-term impacts on our education system as well as the economy, employment, health care and the nation as a whole, and Congress may not be able to meet the full needs described below in one piece of legislation,” the letter states. “We have worked to provide the best estimates possible of what school systems will need now, and over the next two years as we seek to mitigate and recover from this pandemic, and remain eager to work with Congress on how to offset these additional temporary costs to ensure we can meet the needs of every child in the coming year.”

Miller explained that states and local educational agencies (LEAs) seeking to reopen this fall face three distinct challenges. First, they are assessing the costs associated with operating effective remote and in-person instruction during a time when COVID-19 is still presents, which will require a significant investment in technology infrastructure to ensure remote learning opportunities are available and effective, as well as health and safety protocols necessary to bring students and staff safely back into the school building.

For example, while many states and school districts are using CARES Act funds to invest in devices for students and professional development for teachers, every state requires additional funding to expand broadband and internet access to the students they serve, the letter notes. It adds that the Learning Policy Institute has estimated states will need $4 billion to cover the costs of expanding internet access and devices to the 15% of students nationwide who still lack adequate access.

Second, states and LEA must deal with the costs associated with addressing students’ academic learning loss and helping students overcome increased trauma and economic and food insecurities. “States recognize that all students have been impacted as a result of COVID-19, but not all have experienced trauma or shouldered loss equally,” the letter notes. “The virus and racial injustice have particularly impacted students of color, high-poverty students, students with disabilities, and English learners, and students’ individual needs must be addressed in the next academic year if we expect them to thrive.”

The third issue mentioned in the letter is the anticipated decline in state and local funding for education stemming from reductions in income, sales and other tax revenues, calling it a “perfect storm” of increased needs and decreased resources necessary “to prevent a generational harm to our nation’s youth.”

While the CCSSO realizes that the amount of federal funding necessary to successfully and safely reopen schools and keep K-12 education budgets whole in the coming year is “substantial,” it stressed that this funding would be “an essential investment in the nation’s ongoing economic recovery and future competitiveness.” Further, the letter explained that “as long as our K-12 school buildings remain closed, our country’s economy cannot get back up and running and our economy will continue to suffer trillion-dollar losses. At the same time, we must address the significant academic and social-emotional impacts on students throughout this crisis and help them overcome the considerable learning loss and trauma they have experienced if we are ever to ensure a thriving economy in the years to come.”

Making future appropriation choices at a time like this is difficult, but adding funds to address the concerns in the CCSSO letter would be a positive step forward.

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