What Biden’s K-12 COVID recovery policies will look like
Title I schools, universal prekindergarten and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act could all see increased funding under President Joe Biden’s newly installed administration.
Biden may also provide more financial assistance to schools to compensate for state and local revenues lost to the pandemic, said Julia Martin, legislative director for the education-focused law firm, Brustein & Manasevit, in her FETC keynote speech.
And Miguel Cardona, Biden’s nominee for secretary of education, will likely add momentum the administration’s push to provide guidance to districts to begin reopening classrooms.
As Connecticut’s education commissioner, Cardona emphasized the importance of bringing students back to classroom in at least a hybrid format.
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“The Biden transition team has said they want to reopen schools for in-person instruction for at least part-time attendance by the end of the first 100 days of the administration,” Martin said.
Masking learning loss?
Congress has permitted schools to suspend NAEP assessments until 2022 but Cardona, a former superintendent and elementary teacher, has also suggested that schools could conduct statewide assessments in 2021.
Some education leaders and K-12 experts have argued assessments are needed this coming spring to gauge the true depth of COVID-era learning loss. Others, however, question the reliability and validity of online exams, Martin said.
Students who can comfortably take standardized tests online are those who have reliable internet access, don’t have to share devices with siblings, who attend online courses regularly and feel secure about turning on web cameras, she said.
“The student who don’t fall into those categories, who don’t take the assessments, are the same students we are going to be worried about,” she said. “There is a concern that these test scores might mask equity problems.”
There would also longer-term questions about any standardized tests given this school year.
“When we take assessments two and three years from now are we going to say it’s a fair comparison to look at 2021 data or are we going to say that 2021 data is pretty abysmal and so comparing ourselves to that data gives us a false picture of success,” Martin said.
When it comes to IDEA, Biden has said his administration would fulfill its commitment to the law, which would fund about 40% of the costs of K-12 special education. But educators await guidance on other aspects of special education.
“What constitutes a free and an appropriate public education for students with disabilities in distance learning?” she asked. “How do you measure their inclusion in the classroom when there’s no classroom?”
In the early days of the administration, Biden and Cardona are likely to rescind a number of regulations imposed by former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Martin said, adding there are too many of those rules to go through in a 45-minute keynote speech. DeVos resigned on January 7.
The new administration is likely to reinstate Obama-era Title IX guidance protecting students from discrimination based on for gender identity.
The Trump administration said gender identity is not protected by Title IX, arguing the law only covers biological sex. However, the Supreme Court this summer ruled the employees are protected from discrimination based on gender identity in the workplace.
In 2021, there a number of cases before the Supreme Court that could bring clarity to protections for gender identity in schools, Martin said.
What Democratic Congressional control means for K-12
Senate and House Democrats now in Congress are likely to push for universal prekindergarten while providing other assistance to schools in the coming months.
With the Vice President Kamala Harris breaking ties in the 50-50 Senate, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington is likely to become chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, also known as HELP.
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Murray has shown support for universal pre-K and expanded childcare credits, and also shares many of President Joe Biden’s goals for education, said Julia Martin, legislative director for the education-focused law firm, Brustein & Manasevit, in FETC keynote.
“Kalama Harris is going to be in for one of the most active roles for a vice president in recent decades,” Martin said.
Democratic control also assures that Miguel Cardona will be confirmed as the next secretary of education.