How should Kentucky spend $2.1 billion for K-12 education?
Last month, following the approval of the American Rescue Plan, I wrote about the need for communities to come to the table to talk about education recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. As guidance from the U.S. Department of Education on the use of these funds has been made available, it’s apparent that community, parent, and education stakeholder buy-in isn’t just on my wish list – it’s a requirement. In order for schools to get the funds, they will need for education recovery and for building a new foundation for educational success, meaningful consultation with families and community stakeholders is required.
This is critical for Prichard Committee members, Groundswell Initiative members, and other education advocates who want to ensure that these dollars are used in the most effective way possible. In the years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, declines in student reading and math test scores and declines in college-going rates were concerning. The pandemic only exacerbated those issues, as many students struggled with learning at home throughout the past year, and high school students began changing their college plans for economic and safety reasons.
With $2.1 billion earmarked for Kentucky education recovery in K-12 schools, we now have the opportunity to address the persistent achievement gaps in our system. Congress built-in two critical policies in the plan to help ensure that academic achievement gaps close. Titled “maintenance of effort and equity,” these policies are meant to protect the most underserved students from harmful budget cuts that have taken place over the years. Simply put, Kentucky and other states must not use this funding as an excuse to cut K-12 spending – as it’s imperative that these dollars be used for education recovery and building a new foundation for educational success. To receive funding, Kentucky and other states must allocate at least the same share of total state spending over the next two years as they did, on average, in 2017, 18, and 19. As the funds are tied to Title 1 spending, for these “high-poverty” districts, Kentucky and other states must provide the equivalent (or more) of 2019 funding. This policy is intended to reduce harm to the most vulnerable students.
Local Kentucky boards of education have until July 31 to submit their budget plans and fiscal assurances to the state’s department of education – and they will also be required to make these plans publicly available via the district website. Fortunately, there is still time for families, community members, and other education stakeholders to come to the table. I am calling on our members and partners to make their voices heard and to ask the following key questions for recovery. I also encourage schools and boards to seek out collaboration with the following stakeholders:
- City and county elected officials
- Community Mental Health Centers
- The refugee and immigrant community
- Community-based non-profit organizations (including faith-based)
- Prichard Committee members (including Groundswell Initiative members, Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership fellows and other partners)
As these groups are forming and meetings with local boards of education are set, here are some other reminders:
- Evidence-based practices are also a requirement for funding. The American Rescue Plan requires that all proposed education intervention programs have been thoroughly researched to prove effectiveness. To learn more about some of the high-quality, evidence-based practices that have been approved for education recovery, visit EvidenceforEssa.org or education.ky.gov/school/evidence/.
- Equity is key to education recovery and building a new foundation. All interventions must equitably address the unique needs of students living in poverty, experiencing homelessness, learning English, or living with a disability. Parents, students, and caregivers in the underserved populations must share their COVID experiences so needs are equitably met.
We have created a list of questions you can ask your boards of education about local needs and equity during the planning process:
- How many students have returned to school, are still studying virtually, and how many have we lost – who needs to be found?
- What were the reading and math outcomes in my community before the pandemic and did we have achievement gaps, likely exacerbated through the pandemic? What is the plan to know where students are and to help them catch up this summer?
- How will the district implement evidence-based strategies to address unfinished instruction, accelerate learning, and respond to students’ academic, social, and emotional needs?
- How many of our students are going on to college this year? How many have completed the FAFSA? How does this compare to prior years and what can we do to increase these rates?
- How are my communities recent high school graduates doing in college, in the workforce? What supports so they need?
- Do we have enough teachers in our community to cover increased learning opportunities? If not, what strategies will we use to staff the learning opportunities our students need?
- What is the mental health infrastructure in my community and what plans are being made to expand access to mental health services for students of all ages and families?
- How much of my community has adequate access to the internet? What plans are being made to ensure more families have adequate and affordable access at home for remote learning, remote work, and remote access to health care?
- What is the childcare infrastructure in my community? Did childcare centers go out of business? Is there a childcare need that must be satisfied to support working families?
- Who are the most vulnerable in my community? What is being done to ensure their recovery?
I recently listened to an address from U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, and he emphasized the importance of both culturally responsive and social-emotional learning as recovery plans are being created around the country. With the end of the 2020-2021 school year upon us, those plans must be created with urgency because our schools cannot return to “normal.” They must embark upon the exceptional and equitable opportunities that our students will need to achieve the big bold future they deserve.