This weekly segment by Democrats for Education Reform CT usually looks at the top education stories Democrats are watching, providing bite-sized analysis and links to recent articles. During this period in which the latest news is primarily focused on COVID-19, our “Social Distance” editions will look at the manner in which the public health crisis is impacting public education, children, and families in Connecticut and nationwide.
Hunger Relief and Student Loans During COVID-19
This month has seen a quick succession of federal responses to the growing COVID-19 emergency in America, with two pieces of legislation passed and further action due to be released by Congress today. Of particular note so far is last week’s Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which, among other things, addresses the needs of children who ordinarily receive free or reduced price meals in school. The legislation enables the US Department of Agriculture to approve state plans for emergency assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Program, providing families a grocery stipend in lieu of a weekday meal pick up offered at school.
On the higher education front, President Trump has announced both a temporary waiver of interest on federal student loans and an optional 60 day suspension of payments on federal student loans. (The waiver on interest for federal loans is automatic. But borrowers seeking to suspend federal loan payments must formally request administrative forbearance through their loan officers.) House Speaker Pelosi has also released a plan this week, part of a larger stimulus proposal, that would grant student loan borrowers $10,000 in debt forgiveness if adopted.
The Impact of Distance Learning on Educational Equity
Since March 10th, Governor Lamont has issued fourteen executive orders to address COVID-19, canceling school classes until at least April 20th, waiving the legislative requirement that public schools convene for 180 days of the year, postponing the Presidential Primaries to June 2nd, requiring “non-essential businesses” to operate remotely as much as possible, and more. For children and families, these significant state and federal responses have largely tackled immediate social distancing requirements and economic realities. In the long-term, however, there will be a need to address the potentially disproportionate implications of this crisis on vulnerable student subgroups, which may lead to widening achievement gaps.
Our affiliate organization, Education Reform Now, has begun to compile information about the speed with which different states are addressing remote learning. While schools undertake these new strategies, many students may lack access to internet and devices. The Partnership for CT announced on Monday that it would provide laptops to 60,000 students this month, prioritizing assistance to students with the greatest need. Several broadband providers have also begun to offer free internet services to Connecticut households with students. Our national office has signed a letter, urging the Federal Communications Commission to offset the costs of home internet access across the country so that classrooms can stay open online.
With schools closed for the foreseeable future, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced last week that the US Department of Education will waive K-12 standardized testing requirements for this academic year, if states apply for exemptions. In the face of practical realities, Connecticut is seeking a waiver. However, the ongoing lack of accountability will significantly impact matters of education equity. We will need to give considerable thought to how we can protect vulnerable student populations throughout this crisis. In an alarming article on Monday, the CT Mirror also observed that, during this period, many children are at increased risk of undergoing unreported abuse and neglect, with DCF reports dropping dramatically.
Notable CT Executive Orders
Distance Learning and Access to Internet + Devices
Waivers of Oversight + Accountability