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Education policy recommendations that not only assist K-12 students but are also fiscally responsible

I have previously written about how the coronavirus pandemic has given policymakers an opportunity to address education disparities and shake up the status quo. While we aren’t sure what education will look like come fall—or what consequences remote learning will have on students, as necessary as the school closures have been—there are solutions that will ensure every child receives the education that best meets his or her individual needs, both now and in the future.

The Center, along with other state think tanks, has submitted recommendations to Congress on what some of these solutions could look like. While American Experiment continues to believe that the role of government should be limited, we recognize that given these extraordinary times, Congress has been focused on providing thoughtful assistance to ensure every child continues accessing a quality education. Should Congress approve future stimulus packages, we want to make sure the nearly 60 million K-12 children across the country are supported.

Here are several policy recommendations that would provide the greatest temporary assistance to K-12 education while being fiscally responsible.

Improve Internet Access for Families Who Need It

The digital divide between students with access to home technology and those without it has impacted student learning.

It’s not just a matter of making laptops or iPads available. To access online learning platforms, these devices rely on internet. But affordable and reliable broadband access isn’t always available. Nearly 12 million children live in homes without access. Because the expected duration of the coronavirus crisis and its impact on the 2020-2021 school year is unknown, digital learning is likely going to be a part of education for the foreseeable future. Any future stimulus package should aim to address this significant infrastructure challenge.

  • Address online equity issues for low-income and rural communities by expanding E-rate and providing incentives to spur broadband infrastructure. Options may include simplifying the permitting process and providing financial incentives for contractors that meet deadlines. A competitive grant program could aid the creation of broadband infrastructure in rural communities and should include local community support from parents, schools, and local governments.
  • For any additional E-rate funds appropriated, allow Local Education Agencies (LEAs) to be eligible only if they demonstrate they are actively working to educate students if the school year is still in session or, if the school year has ended, are developing plans for the 2020-2021 school year to accommodate distance learning as needed.

Support Teachers and the Transition to Distance Learning

Teachers have been asked to change their medium and style of teaching very quickly and with little training. Congress should encourage more teachers across the United States to obtain professional development in virtual and online learning so that students are receiving the best education possible.

  • Provide a stipend (microgrant) for teachers to learn to develop and deliver distance learning. Florida approved $200 stipends for up to 10,000 teachers to get them trained to adapt traditional in-person curriculum to digital/online instruction. Private, charter, and public school teachers could be eligible. The percentage of stipends to private, charter, and public schools would be no less than the percentage of private and charter schools to the general school population.

Enable School Choice and Provide Direct Support to Families

 Families have been forced to attempt supporting their children’s education at home. Even with the school year winding down, these solutions would be valuable during the 2020-2021 school year for any unplanned closures.

  • Expand the use of 529 education accounts to be utilized for K-12 homeschooling and other educational expenses.
  • Allow for the direct distribution of funds to families to be able to continue and support their child(ren)’s education via Emergency Education Savings Accounts or microgrants. Education Savings Accounts should be interoperable with state tax credit scholarships.

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