As Schools Reopen, Vital PK-12 Investments Will Address Disparities, Build Back Our Schools on a Stronger and More Equitable Foundation, and Enable America to Compete Globally
The last year and a half have been extraordinarily challenging for America’s students. As we prepare for the 2021-2022 school year, the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to helping every school safely open for full-time, in-person instruction; accelerate academic achievement; and build school communities where all students feel they belong.
At the same time, President Biden understands that addressing the immediate impact of the pandemic is not enough. For too many Americans—including students of color, children with disabilities, English learners, LGBTQ+ students, students from low-income families, and other underserved students—the promise of a high-quality education has gone unfulfilled for generations. Studies show the remarkable benefits of preschool programs, but such programs are too often out of reach for children of color and low-income children. Dramatically unequal funding between school districts means some children learn in gleaming new classrooms, while students just down the road navigate unsafe and rundown facilities. Amid a nationwide teacher shortage, high-poverty school districts struggle to attract certified staff and experienced educators. And students of color and children with disabilities face disproportionately high rates of school discipline that removes them from the classroom, with lasting consequences.
With 53 percent of our public school students now students of color, addressing these disparities is critical for not only all our children, but for our nation’s collective health, happiness, and economic security. Consistent with the President’s Executive Order, the Administration is committed to advancing educational equity for every child—so that schools and students not only recover from the pandemic, but Build Back Better. As First Lady Dr. Biden says, “Any country that out-educates us is going to outcompete us.” We will meet the challenges of the coming decades only by harnessing the full potential of every young person.
Taken together, the unprecedented investments already made in the American Rescue Plan—along with those proposed in the Build Back Better Agenda—will devote historic and vitally-needed resources that unlock opportunity for millions of Americans. These investments in evidence-based approaches will shore up schools struggling with the aftermath of COVID-19, tackle inter-generational educational disparities, address the holistic needs of children, and incentivize states to help our schools rebuild on a stronger and more equitable foundation.
To support the equitable education of every child at every step, the Administration will:
- Safely reopen schools and support students, particularly those disproportionately impacted by the pandemic;
- Invest in high-quality early childhood education, including providing universal pre-school for all three and four-year-olds and access to affordable child care;
- Address the national teacher shortage by improving teacher preparation, strengthening pipelines for underrepresented teachers, and supporting current teachers;
- Upgrade and build new public schools and child care centers;
- Expand college and career pathways for middle and high school students;
- Make a historic $20 billion investment in high-poverty Title I schools;
- Fund additional transformational investments to support the needs of the whole child, including community schools that provide wraparound services like afterschool programs, and hiring more counselors, social workers and school psychologists.
ADVANCING EDUCATIONAL EQUITY IN THE AMERICAN RESCUE PLAN
The President made clear on Day One of this Administration that safely reopening schools was a national priority, signing an Executive Order that launched a comprehensive effort across the White House, Department of Education, and Department of Health and Human Services to safely reopen schools. The Department of Education has worked to support states and school districts in implementing CDC guidance for safe operations, and engaged education leaders across the country to collect and share best practices. The Administration has prioritized K-12 educator, staff, and child care vaccinations, and increased access to and awareness of vaccines among adolescents and their parents.
States, school districts, and schools are supported in this work by the American Rescue Plan’s historic and needed investment in our schools. This included $130 billion to support the safe reopening of schools and address the academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs of students—including $122 billion through the American Rescue Plan’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ARP ESSER). This funding is being used to help schools safely operate, implement high-quality summer learning and enrichment programs, hire nurses and counselors, support the vaccination of students and staff, and invest in other measures to take care of students. Thanks to these efforts—combined with the Administration’s aggressive vaccination push and the hard work of state, district, school leaders, educators, and parents—the percentage of K-8 schools offering only remote instruction dropped from 23 percent in January to only 2 percent in May.
The American Rescue Plan recognizes and addresses the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on underserved students. Districts and states must spend a combined minimum of 24 percent of total ARP ESSER funds on evidence-based practices to address lost instructional time and the impact of the coronavirus on underserved students, such as summer learning and enrichment programs, comprehensive afterschool programs, and tutoring. School and district leaders must ensure that these efforts respond to students’ social and emotional needs as well. ARP ESSER includes a first-of-its-kind maintenance of equity requirement to ensure that high-poverty school districts and schools are protected from funding cuts. The American Rescue Plan also includes additional funding for students with disabilities, students experiencing homelessness, Tribal education, nutrition security, broadband access, and child care for low-income families.
ADVANCING EDUCATIONAL EQUITY IN THE BUILD BACK BETTER AGENDA
The resources in the American Rescue Plan, however, are not enough to address the deep educational inequities that have existed in our country since its founding. President Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda directly addresses longstanding educational inequities and will revitalize our education system so that students have the opportunities to learn and prepare for jobs in tomorrow’s economy, which includes ensuring the needs of the whole child are addressed.
Make a historic investment to support students in high-poverty schools.
To ensure that every student—including those from underserved and under-resourced communities—can learn and thrive, the President’s discretionary budget request provides an additional $20 billion in funding for Title I schools. These investments will help address long-standing funding disparities between under-resourced school districts and wealthier districts:
Boost early childhood care and education
The President’s Build Back Better Agenda makes historic investments in our youngest learners, so that every child can succeed, paving the way for the best-educated generation in U.S. history.
Establishing universal preschool
Preschool is critical to ensuring that children start kindergarten with the skills and supports that set them up for success in school. However, children of color are less likely to have access to high-quality preschool programs,resulting in disparate educational outcomes before students even enter kindergarten. Research shows that kids who attend preschool programs are more likely to take honors classes and less likely to repeat a grade, do better in math and reading, and are more likely to graduate from high school and enroll in college. Impacts are particularly strong for children from low-income families, and children with disabilities benefit from inclusive, accessible preschool programs with their peers.
President Biden’s plan would establish a national partnership with states to offer free, high-quality, accessible, and inclusive preschool for all three-and four-year-olds. This will benefit five million children, and save the average family $13,000 a year on preschool tuition. This historic investment in America’s future will prioritize high-need areas first, establishing universal programs in these communities, so that all students can access them, facilitating the creation of diverse classrooms that are best for all students. It will also enable communities and families to choose the setting that works best for them, whether that’s a preschool classroom in a public school, family child care provider or child care center, or a Head Start program. The President’s plan supports low student-to-teacher ratios, high quality standards, and inclusive classroom environments.
Make high-quality child care affordable and accessible
High-quality early care and education helps ensure that children can take full advantage of education and training opportunities later in life, especially for children from low-income families and children of color, who disproportionately lack access to good child care options and who face learning disparities before they even can go to preschool. President Biden’s proposal will ensure that low- and middle-income families can access affordable, high-quality, child care. The most hard-pressed working families would pay nothing, and families earning 1.5 times their state’s median income would spend no more than 7 percent of their income on child care for their young children. The plan will also provide families with a range of inclusive and accessible options to choose from, from child care centers to family child care providers to Early Head Start programs. Child care providers will receive funding to support the true cost of quality early childhood education, which will allow them to provide care that is accessible and inclusive of children with disabilities.
The President’s investments in child care and preschool will also support early childhood educators, more than nine in ten of whom are women and more than four in ten of whom are women of color. One report found that nearly half rely on public income support programs. The President’s plan establishes a $15 minimum wage for these educators and ensures those with similar qualifications as kindergarten teachers receive comparable compensation and benefits.
And the President’s proposal will extend the American Rescue Plan’s expanded Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit so that families can instead choose to get a credit for up to half of their child care expenses, saving up to $8,000 per year.
Invest in our teachers. Few people have a bigger impact on a child’s life than a great teacher. Unfortunately, the U.S. faces a large and growing teacher shortage. Before the pandemic, schools needed an estimated additional 100,000 certified teachers, resulting in key positions going unfilled, the granting of emergency certifications, or teachers teaching out of their certification area. Shortages disproportionately impact students of color and rural communities. In schools with the highest percentage of students of color, the percentage of teachers who are uncertified is more than three times as large as in schools with the lowest percentage of students of color. The percentage of teachers in their first or second year of teaching is 70 percent higher. While access to teachers of color benefits all students and has a particularly strong impact on students of color, only around one in five teachers are people of color, compared to more than half of public school students.
The Build Back Better Agenda will increase support for teacher preparation and invest in Grow Your Own programs and year-long, paid teacher residency programs. These programs have a significant impact on student outcomes and teacher retention, and are more likely to enroll underrepresented teacher candidates, including candidates of color. The plan would also invest in teacher preparation at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and Minority-Serving Institutions. The President has also called for increased investments in certifications in high-demand areas like special education and bilingual education, and is urging Congress to invest in programs that leverage teachers as leaders, such as high-quality mentorship programs for new teachers. These investments will improve the quality of new teachers, increase retention rates, and grow the number of teachers of color—all of which will improve student outcomes like academic achievement and high school graduation rates, resulting in higher long-term earnings, job creation, and a boost to the economy. As more teachers stay in the profession, districts will save money on recruiting and training, and can invest more in programs that directly impact students.
Expand career pathways for middle and high school students.Strong dual enrollment programs increase college enrollment, and graduation. High-quality career and technical education models have significant positive effects on high school graduation, increase college enrollment, and improve wages. The President’s plan would provide more students with access to high-quality career and technical education programs that expand access to computer science; connect underrepresented students to careers in STEM and in in-demand, high-growth industry sectors; that include partnerships with institutions of higher education, employers, and other stakeholders; and that allow students to engage in quality work-based learning opportunities, earn a credential, and/or earn college credit.
Eliminate inequitable school infrastructure conditions. According to one national study, there is a $38 billion gap between the current infrastructure spending on schools and actual infrastructure needs. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives American school infrastructure a grade of D+.Students of color are more likely to attend schools with rundown and unsafe facilities. Poor physical school conditions are associated with increased rates of student absenteeism, with one study finding poor ventilation associated with a 10 to 20 percent increase in student absences. While the American Rescue Plan provides critical resources for improving ventilation systems, it does not provide sufficient resources to address all health and safety needs, let alone long-overdue investments to increase energy efficiency, ensure our schools have the technology and labs to prepare students for jobs in tomorrow’s economy, or build new buildings where needed. President Biden’s plan supports investments to upgrade and build new public schools, ensuring that all our children have equal access to healthy learning environments that prepare them for success. It also invests in upgrading child care facilities and increasing the supply of child care in areas that need it most.
Addressing lead in schools. There is no safe level of lead exposure for children. Lead can slow development and cause learning, behavior, and hearing problems in children, as well as lasting kidney and brain damage. Communities of color are at a higher risk of lead exposure. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework would make significant investments towards the elimination of all lead pipes and service lines in the country, and reduce lead exposure in our schools and child care facilities, improving the health of our country’s children, including in communities of color.
Increasing broadband access for students and families. Broadband internet is critical to learning. Yet, by one definition, more than 30 million Americans live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds. In urban areas, there is a stark digital divide: a much higher percentage of white families report having a home broadband internet than Black, or Latino families. Native families in their tribal communities also lack sufficient access to high-speed internet. One Michigan study found that 47 percent of students who lived in rural areas had broadband access at home, compared to 77 percent of those in suburban areas. The last year made painfully clear the cost of these disparities, particularly for students who struggled to connect while learning remotely. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework would make historic investments in building “future proof” broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas, so that we finally reach 100 percent high-speed broadband coverage.
Electrifying school buses for safe student travel. One study finds that when children ride buses with clean air technologies, they experience lower exposures to air pollution, less pulmonary inflammation, and reduced absenteeism. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework would make a down payment on electrifying our yellow school bus fleet.
Increase support for children with disabilities. All children, including those with disabilities, should be provided the services and support they need to thrive in school and graduate ready for college or a career. The discretionary request provides an historic $2.6 billion increase for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) grants that support special education and related services for children with disabilities in grades preschool through 12. This funding would, for the first time in eight years, increase the federal share of the cost of providing services to children with disabilities, and is a significant first step toward fully funding IDEA. The discretionary request also includes an additional $250 million for IDEA Part C, which supports early intervention services for infants and toddlers with disabilities or delays, and funds services that have a proven track record of improving academic and developmental outcomes. This increase in funding would be paired with reforms to improve access to these vital services for underserved children, including children of color and children from low-income families.
Prioritize the physical and mental well-being of students. The discretionary request provides $1 billion to increase the number of counselors, nurses, and mental health professionals in schools, prioritizing high-poverty schools.
Support full-service community schools. Community schools play a critical role in providing comprehensive wrap-around services to students and their families, from afterschool to adult education opportunities to health and nutrition services. The discretionary request increases funding for these schools from $30 million to $443 million, an over ten-fold increase.
Foster diverse schools. Schools play vital roles in bringing communities together. But, too many of the nation’s schools are still largely segregated by race and class, mirroring their communities. The discretionary request includes $100 million for a new voluntary grant program to help communities develop and implement strategies to build more diverse student bodies. As part of their application, applicants would be required to demonstrate strong student, family, teacher, and community involvement in their plans. Applicants would have flexibility to develop and implement school diversity plans that reflect their individual needs and circumstances, and improve educational opportunities and outcomes for students.