State and Federal Policy Perspective

During the 2021 virtual National Leaders Conference, participants got a firsthand look at the latest in education policy and advocacy at the state and federal levels.

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February 2021, Volume 44, Issue 6

Federal Policy Perspective

NAESP Associate Executive Director, Policy and Advocacy, Danny Carlson offered the federal policy perspective and advocacy update.

“We have to have people in Congress who believe that principals really matter and that to have successful schools you have to invest in principals,” said Carlson. “It’s simple, straightforward, and obvious to us, but it’s something NAESP emphasizes all the time.”

What does this look like in action? NAESP uses an advocacy trifecta: impact, grassroots advocacy and communication. To have an impact, we have to influence policymakers to support our agenda—and we cannot do that without grassroots advocacy and communication. 

Since the pandemic hit in March 2020, NAESP has been calling on Congress to provide adequate relief funding—$200 billion, to be exact—to help schools. The cost on schools to keep students and staff safe are going up, and they’re new costs that weren’t in budgets a year ago. Plus, revenue is going down. It’s a precarious moment for schools, Carlson said, and these two factors require a strong federal response.

So far, Congress has provided $67 billion in direct K-12 aid to help schools respond to the coronavirus. Through the CARES Act (passed in March 2020), $13 billion went to K-12. The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (passed in December 2020) allocated $54 billion for K-12. NAESP is urging Congress to provide another $130 billion to help schools reopen safely and stay open and fund cost-intensive interventions like learning loss and mental health programs for students. (Take action by contacting your legislators.)  

Long-Term Costs

Even with adequate funding schools, helping schools—and kids—recover from the pandemic will take years. Two important long-term cost considerations are addressing student social-emotional and mental health and addressing learning loss.

  • Addressing Social-Emotional and Mental Health: Being physically out of school for months upends students’ support systems, creates isolation, and deepens anxiety. Schools need ample resources to expand mental health programs and train staff to better understand trauma’s impact and how they can help students heal.
  • Addressing Learning Loss: Tens of millions of students will have gone a full calendar year with little or no in-person schooling. The pandemic has set back learning for all students but especially for students of color. Schools’ capacity to respond could be the difference in preventing permanent educational hardships that would affect the country for decades to come.

Moving Forward

With adequate funding, schools can start to close the homework gap by connecting millions of students to the internet who don’t currently have it, work to overcome chronic absenteeism that’s been made worse by the pandemic, support school infrastructure by being able to upgrade HVAC systems and repair crumbling buildings, and so much more.

State Policy Perspective

Jeremy Anderson, president of Education Commission of the States (ECS), provided the state education policy perspective, highlighting top issues they’re seeing states take action on.

Teaching: Teachers are the most important educational factor contributing student success.

  • ECS is seeing increased requests for more effective training and support on collaborative and personalized training that can be accessed in multiple formats.
  • Regarding teacher evaluations, some states are waiving all requirements, some are waiving some requirements, and others are using evaluations from the previous year.  Many states are experiencing a shortage of effective teachers.
  • Recruiting and retention has a special focus on getting the right people in the right positions and having a more diverse teaching force. Some states are looking at career-switchers, incentivizing teachers for those who don’t currently work in education.

K-12 Funding: Additional funding for high-need student populations is linked to increased academic success.

  • Disadvantaged student populations are most affected, and some states are investigating how to allocate funds to public schools in low-wealth counties, which are most likely to lack the tools needed to facilitate ne,w methods of learning.
  • How could COVID-19 affect funding? ECS has seen two approaches: modified funding policies to accommodate various learning methods and suspended enrollment counts and funding on last year’s enrollment numbers.

Digital Divide: In 2018, 13.5 million students didn’t have access to the internet. This was exacerbated by the pandemic.

  • There’s a disproportionate impact on Native American, Black, and Hispanic students, students from low-income households, and rural students.

Learning Loss and Student Health and Wellness: Pandemic-prompted shifts to remote learning have led to concerns about student learning loss and student mental health.

  • ECS has seen 17 state governors use federal emergency relief funds to combat learning loss.
  • Student health and wellness are tied to students’ ability to attend school and consistently engage in their learning environments.
  • ECS has seen a dramatic increase in districts getting telehealth services to students and contracting with health organizations to offer mental health screening or funding for additional in-school professionals to help screen students.

Anderson noted that common themes have emerged from many governors’ State of the State addresses as top priorities in education. They are reallocating federal funds, enhancing remote learning, developing a stronger workforce, safely returning to in-person learning, combating learning loss, and focusing on both student physical and mental health.

What surprises Anderson after a year in a pandemic? First, he said, was the number of kids who are still in remote learning and not in in-person or hybrid. Regarding the legislative response, there wasn’t opportunity to do much last year; they needed to close budgets and get out. Anderson said. But there haven’t been major pieces of education that are looking at rebuilding education. And third, the budget side, he said. There are a lot of big questions marks about what state budgets are going to look like in 2022.

To learn more about these issues and find out how you can take action, check out the NAESP Advocacy Center, which makes it easy for you to contact your members of Congress. Sign up for NAESP Advocacy Texts, too, by texting NAESP to 52886.


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