America’s Education is in Crisis. Will Congress Act in Time?

WASHINGTON, D.C. (September 10, 2020) – Coronavirus is in the air. Literally. COVID-19 is transmitted through aerosols forcing America’s entire education system – from preschool to college – to face new challenges as they re-open with in-person, virtual and hybrid models. Parents, teachers, and students are working to navigate this dramatic shift to keep America’s children educated and their caregivers employed.  

The pandemic’s long-term impact on public schools is being acutely felt. States, responsible for funding K-12 public education, are struggling with rising unemployment and declining tax revenues. They need federal assistance now more than ever. The March CARES Act infused state governments with funding to get through the 2019-2020 school year. Both parties in Congress have introduced legislation that would send additional funds to schools. This was an excellent start – but the moment – and our nation’s learners – need Congress to do more and to act now as they return to work this week.

SIIA’s education technology companies are working closely with educators and administrators to address core issues impacting digital learning.  Equity and access are critical areas of focus for our country to ensure the continuity of learning in the years to come. Congress must act with urgency to  address the connectivity and funding challenges that threaten our nation’s education system at this pivotal moment.

First, connectivity is key. We need connectivity to facilitate learning and close the homework gap. This problem isn’t new but has been exacerbated by the pandemic. When students don’t have a reliable internet connection, they are unable to access their education – academic and social. This inequity must end.  A number of states plan to use CARES Act funds for connectivity – whether through the deployment of mobile hotspots, turning on the wifi at school buildings for students to access from the parking lot, or purchasing data for students that have access to cell phones. We need long-term solutions to replace our current Band-Aid fixes to this problem. One approach would be for Congress to invest additional funds in the Education Stabilization Fund. Another would be to act on FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel’s call to expand the Commission’s E-rate program which could allow school libraries to loan out mobile hotspots or subsidize at-home internet connections.

Second, Congress should allocate need-based funds to schools and workforce programs. These funds should, among other things, support school districts in the integration of digital learning solutions helping ensure continuity between in-school and at home learning and further mitigating learning loss. The dramatic change in learning compounded by its psychological and emotional toll on learners mean students will require more support from our education system, not less. After the Great Recession of 2008, school budgets in 29 states still hadn’t returned to their pre-recession funding levels in 2015. Studies consistently show when funding is cut, students fall behind. State budgets will be impacted with the loss in tax revenues that are used to support school infrastructure in states.  During this extraordinary moment we cannot afford to stretch our teachers even more than they are already stretched.

We’re already seeing the chaos this pandemic has had on our colleges and universities. Many institutions trying to reopen were forced to shift quickly to online learning after outbreaks of COVID-19. More, colleges and universities are also key employers in communities across the country. They need support before virus spikes lead to additional unemployment spikes. .  Congress needs to step in and allocate additional funds for K-12 and institutions of higher education in the Education Stabilization Fund.

Finally, our economy is forever changed. We need to encourage continued professional development and continuing education for all Americans. No one could have prepared the 3.2 million teachers in America for the abrupt transition to digital learning. Congress should fund teacher preparation and professional development and ensure teachers have ready access to the resources and support required to drive the effective use of technology and meaningfully connect with their students. Congress should also encourage short-term credentialing programs so Americans can develop rewarding career paths.  

School is back in session as the pandemic continues. Parents, educators, learners, and entire communities across America seek leadership and support. The time is now – policymakers must take action this month to protect the future of our country’s vital education system.

Jeff Joseph is president of the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) – the principal trade association for the software and digital information industries. SIIA’s more than 700 members consist of software companies, data and analytics firms, information service companies, digital publishers, and education technology companies. Prior to joining SIIA, Joseph was founder and CEO of Starlight Public Affairs, a strategic communications firm advising an array of corporate and non-profit clients. Joseph also served as senior vice president of communications and strategic relationships for the Consumer Technology Association (CTA)™, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,200 consumer technology companies. CTA owns and produces CES® – The Global Stage for Innovation.

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