The Equity 8 – California’s Key Legislative Principles Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Each year, The Education TrustWest analyzes the state budget and proposed legislation to identify 8 key proposals that have potential for advancing educational equity and justice for California’s students and educators. This year, with education equity in crisis due to school and college closures resulting from COVID-19, we are coming out with a special Equity 8 edition focused how to address the needs of students of color and students from lower income communities during this time.   

The coronavirus crisis hits at a time when California already needs to do much more, much faster to achieve educational justice. Now, with months-long school and college closures further exposing and exacerbating opportunity gaps, it is even more critical we harness the power of our collective work and advocacy. Across all the recovery efforts, one core principle must apply: direct the most resources to the families and communities hit hardest. 

COVID-19: The Equity 8 for 2020

#1: Meet the Basic Needs of Students

Rationale: Many of California’s students were experiencing hunger and housing insecurity before the COVID-19 crisis. As in many areas, the pandemic raised the visibility of these issues and made the problems worse.

Recommendations:

  • Expedite the implementation of the Pandemic-Electronic Benefits Transfer Program (P-EBT). California has submitted a plan to the United States Department of Agriculture to participate in the P-EBT. If approved, rollout of and communication about the program must be swift.
  • Seek a federal waiver to temporarily suspend rules that make college students ineligible for the CalFresh Program, federally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), simply due to their status as a college students.
  • Preserve students’ Cal Grant eligibility. California should ensure that students’ academic performance during COVID-impacted terms does not result in being identified as failing to meet Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP), and aid received during the Spring 2020 term should not impact lifetime Cal Grant eligibility because of campus closures

#2: Focus On Racial Equity

Rationale: We must work toward climbing out of this crisis with a focus on racial equity so that the state and the hardest hit communities – especially Californians of color and low-income Californians – can recover. The educational systems in our state must be rebuilt so that they facilitate access and opportunity much more evenly than ever before.

Recommendations:

  • The Legislature should pass ACA 5, which would place an initiative on the November 2020 ballot to repeal Proposition 209. Disparities in access to healthcare, preexisting conditions, and an over representation in high-risk service jobs that continue to expose workers to the public, will likely leave communities of color hardest hit by the pandemic. California will need every tool at its disposal to recover from this crisis, including the ability to direct resources to marginalized communities of color.

#3: Close the Digital Divide

Rationale: California serves as a global center for the tech industry yet the digital divide persists and is even more evident as schools, districts, and colleges across the state grapple with the COVID-19 crisis. Our digital divide map highlights districts with populations whom are likely to have the least access to the internet and digital devices – students from lower-income communities, students of color, English Learners, students with disabilities, and students experiencing homelessness. Students unable to participate in distance learning will be left further behind. College students also face uneven access to technology, despite common assumptions about access to devices and the internet in the home.

Recommendations:

  • Define the problem by estimating the number of students – pre-K through college – who have not been reached since districts and colleges have moved to distance and online learning.
  • Encourage the California Department of Education to issue guidance for Local Education Agencies, or LEAs, to develop Distance Learning Plans and to allocate federal stimulus dollars towards improving distance learning accessibility for English learners, students with disabilities, undocumented students, and students living in poverty. Incentivize public-private partnerships so that broadband, technology, and digital providers provide additional services to students and families in high-need communities.
  • Urge Congress to modify the federal E-rate program to grant students from lower-income communities access to technology and the internet. This program already provides access for schools and libraries in low-income communities. It should be modified to serve students from lower-income communities in their homes to adapt to distance learning

#4: Address Learning Loss

Rationale: According to our recent statewide poll, K-12 parents’ biggest concern is learning loss and children falling behind academically from school and college closures. We need the Governor and the Legislature to lead the way in helping local education agencies, colleges, and universities to support students recovering from learning loss, particularly students from lower-income communities, students of color, English learners, and students with disabilities.

Recommendations:

  • Direct school districts and colleges to make distance learning plans publicly available via an easily accessible, user-friendly, multi-lingual platforms.
  • Require distance learning with quality standards and strong supports for teachers, and discourage collective bargaining agreements that permit teachers to opt-out of online instruction.
  • Provide flexibility for LEAs to use summer learning and/or supplemental instruction to address learning loss.
  • Define how schools should measure student learning during this crisis and how this information should be used to allocate district- and school-level resources and tailor supports to help students catch up on missed material.
  • Provide emergency funding to higher education programs such as summer bridge programs and co-requisite courses that support students of color, students from lower-income communities, and first-generation students, especially incoming college freshmen, to thrive academically.

#5: Protect Education Funding

Rationale: COVID-19 will have a devastating impact on the state’s economy. One of the most important things the Governor and the Legislature can do to help students from lower-income communities and students of color succeed in the face of the crisis is to protect education funding, from early learning through higher education. If cuts are necessary, avoid making them across-the-board– students who are the most in need should be prioritized for funding and should be cut the least.

Recommendations:

  • Provide financial resources to early care and education programs to prevent closures as a result of losing tuition.
  • Preserve funding for the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), the statewide system of support, UC, CSU, and the Student-Centered Funding Formula at the California Community Colleges.
  • Prioritize funding for student support services at colleges and universities in order to serve the students hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis and avoid cutting categorical funds focused on closing attainment gaps.
  • Maintain California’s reputation of having one of the country’s most progressive and generous financial aid systems to help our lowest-income students move into a postsecondary education

#6: Support Educators

Rationale: Teachers are on the front lines in the fight to ensure high-quality teaching and learning during the crisis. We need the state to do as much as possible to support teachers who are adapting to delivering online instruction for preschoolers through high school seniors.

Recommendations:

  • Ensure teachers receive training and tools to adapt to distance learning, virtual space to collaborate on planning and co-teaching, and peer support through coaching and affinity programs.
  • Ask LEAs to minimize teacher layoffs if budget cuts are necessary

#7: Do Not Abandon Accountability and the State Longitudinal Data System

Rationale: During fiscal downturns, the negative impacts fall disproportionately on students from lower-income communities. The Governor and the Legislature should maintain minimum levels of budget transparency so the public can monitor delivery of services to students most affected by the crisis.

Recommendations:

  • Require LEAs to complete a smaller LCAP that discloses use of LCFF supplemental and concentration funds, and federal and state emergency funding. 
  • Enact AB 1834 (Weber) and AB 1835 (Weber) to require reporting and state tracking of supplemental funds, and ensure continuation of spending rules for these funds when they are spent over multiple years.  
  • Protect funding allocated for the development of the state longitudinal data system. When it is fully operational, this system will be a valuable tool in identifying the state’s biggest disparities regarding learning loss and measuring the effectiveness of strategies for recovery for preschool through post-secondary students.  

#8: Plan for the Future

Rationale: The COVID-19 pandemic and the associated disruption to the pre-K to college school systems may be the biggest education equity crisis in our lifetimes. In addition to the immediate crisis of helping students continue learning during school and campus closures, we call on the Governor and the Legislature to plan for long-term educational recovery and focus on families and communities who have been hit the hardest by the crisis.  

Recommendations:

  • Work with State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond to develop a plan for the structure of the 2020-2021 school year, taking into account learning loss and possible additional shelter-in-place periods.  
  • Incorporate into the 2020-2021 plan, strategies for using summer months to address socio-emotional learning and learning loss to help students catch up and integrate back into schooling. 
  • Maintain access for families in lower-income communities to high-quality early learning programs to mitigate opportunity gaps before children even enter kindergarten.  
  • Ask the State Board of Education to adopt a student growth measure as a state indicator on the California School Dashboard to measure individual student growth and recovery .
  • Create a plan to ensure students’ social-emotional and mental health needs are met to get them ready to learn as soon as possible. 
  • Encourage colleges and universities to develop robust “re-engagement strategies,” outlining specific outreach strategies to reach students who stopped attending as a result of campus closures.

COVID-19: Education Equity Resources and Responses

We hope these recommendations are a useful resource for state leaders as they navigate key decisionmaking throughout the current pandemic. We are continuing to compile resources and information as the situation evolves. You can track updates and access information through our COVID-19 resource hub here.