More Funding, Greater Focus on Equity Needed to Ensure the Educational Needs of All Ohio Children are met as Schools Reopen
August 5, 2020
By Alison Paxson, Communications and Policy Associate
On July 31st, the Ohio Legislative Children’s Caucus continued its conversation on education equity and the reopening of Ohio schools.
Whether districts opt to reopen their school buildings or if they return to school this year online, there are many issues we must consider and act on to ensure all Ohio children have the opportunity to learn safely and equitably.
“One issue that has really been exposed by the COVID crisis is the lack of equity when it comes to technology in our schools,” said Senator Peggy Lehner during the webinar’s opening comments. “While some of our schools were able to fairly smoothly transition to online learning in a matter of weeks, far too many of our children received virtually no instruction from March onward.”
There have been efforts made recently by state leadership to address these issues in Ohio, including the allocation of $50 million in CARES Act funding to technology and connectivity for school districts, but there is still more to consider if Ohio is to keep equity front and center with these state initiatives. For instance, the receipt of these dollars requires a 50% match by school districts – a cost unlikely to be feasible for those who need these dollars most, particularly those in our rural, Appalachian, and urban districts on the other side of the digital divide. These dollars would be best distributed based on need. We must ensure that our actions moving forward do not widen already broad opportunity gaps for Ohio students.
This all begs the question posed by Senator Lehner, one that remains up in the air for many in our state and across the nation: “With several months of preparation behind us and our eyes wide open to the challenge before us, are our schools better prepared to address these inequalities than they were five months ago?”
To address this question and others, the Children’s Caucus welcomed a panel of state leaders to speak at length about school reopening guidance and issues that still need to be addressed before they do:
- Melissa Cropper, Executive Director, Ohio Federation of Teachers
- John Richard, Deputy State Superintendent, Ohio Department of Education
- Peter Voderberg, Chief, BroadbandOhio, Ohio Development Services Agency
Critical takeaways from this conversation include:
- Location Matters. As panelist, Melissa Cropper, noted, “Wherever you are in the state, the scenario is different.” Some of the main concerns facing districts preparing to re-opening and welcoming students for face-to-face instruction are containment of the virus, safety protocols for spacing, and adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). However, for the districts thatt have determined thatthat they will begin the school year online, the conversation has shifted away from how to make the school environment safe to how to ensure equal access to educational and learning opportunities with virtual instruction.
- Learning Opportunity & Equity. Ensuring equal access to learning opportunities for all Ohio children is a task not isolated to the education system alone. Families need roofs over their heads, food on their tables, and more that goes beyond what schools alone can ensure so that children can participate fully in their educations.
- Federal Funding is Needed. We need the federal HEROES Act passed which would provide $2.1 billion towards K-12 education, targeting these funds to our schools and districts most in need. The HEROES Act also provides funding for other resources that are critical to children and families, such as rental assistance, child nutrition programs, broadband, and more.
- Schools Struggling Pre-COVID-19. It is critical to note that Ohio schools were struggling before the pandemic began, well before the state cut $300 million in the education budget amid the pandemic due to shortfalls in state revenues. It is estimated that for schools to reopen safely, it will cost $2,300 per pupil. We need more funding for schools to reopen that would provide for more staff, adequate PPE, devices for remote learning, cleaning supplies, and more.
- Some state policy needs include:
- Statewide policy and protocol (especially for red and purple counties) on when schools can provide face-to-face instruction.
- Investment in broadband to be treated as a public utility.
- Protections for workers, such as paid leave and sick time and reasonable accommodations.
- The Ohio Department of Education’s guidance to school districts in Ohio has taken a three-prong approach:
- Reset & Restart Planning Guide which spells out the basics from a health perspective and other considerations for school buildings
- Dedicated webpage of resources which includes national and state agency resources.
- Facilitated networking opportunities for stakeholders to troubleshoot and talk through issues that are being experienced and to brainstorm solutions.
- Some challenges toward reopening plans include:
- Operations and logistics for schools opening plans encompass a lot of diverse and complex details – from class scheduling to ensuring there are enough staff members to maintain socially distanced classrooms and more – and this is all uncharted territory that no district or individual knows how to traverse with 100% certainty.
- Ensuring equitable access to instruction, especially in remote learning, is a considerable challenge, particularly for communities lacking sustained investments in broadband internet infrastructure.
- Educational leaders are particularly concerned about disengaged students and how distanced learning may make some students even more difficult to reach and even less connected to educational opportunities.
- Supporting all educators, administrators, and school staff to be safe, confident in their abilities to teach online, and more is also an immense hurdle.
- “This pandemic has shown a light on the digital divide – between people who are able to connect and those who cannot,” said Peter Voderberg during his presentation. Two main factors to connectivity are:
- This is the ability to have internet access in your home. There are many regions of Ohio, such as Appalachia or some urban areas that do not have any internet providers at all and lack availability.
- This is the ability to connect to the internet once it is available. Even if the internet infrastructure is there, access to the internet may not be affordable or the home may not have a device to connect.
- As an initial step, the Development Services Agency is seeking to address the issue of availability through HB13 to provide internet availability to households that do not have it.
- In regards to the issue of access, last week the DeWine Administration announced two major initiatives:
- A request for information (RFI) for a transparent price list of technology in the state of Ohio that school administrators and superintendents can use to go online and gauge pricing and providers available to make a determination on how to meet their students’ technological needs for the upcoming school year.
- A grant of $50 million in CARES Act funding to the Ohio Department of Education to provide to school districts in order to purchase technology and connectivity devices.
If you are interested in registering for the Children’s Caucus’ next webinar on the impact of disparities in child health, taking place on Friday, August 21, 2020 at 2:00pm, please click here.
To access a recording of this webinar, please click here.
To access the slide deck presented during this webinar, please click here.
About the Ohio Legislative Children’s Caucus:
Co-chaired by Sen. Peggy Lehner and Rep. Allison Russo, the Ohio Legislative Children’s Caucus is a bipartisan, bicameral, issues-based caucus created to improve the effectiveness and reach of policy designed to positively impact children from birth to age eighteen (and beyond in some cases). The goal of the caucus is to make a significant and lasting difference in the lives of children through public policy to move the needle on these child indicators of well-being. For more information about the Children’s Caucus, please contact Alison Paxson at email@example.com