An open letter to Kentucky’s education leaders: Use CARES funds to ensure excellence with equity and innovation in education
Gov. Beshear, Lt. Gov/Sec. Jacqueline Coleman, Sec. Eric Friedlander, President Aaron Thompson, Interim Education Commissioner Kevin Brown, members of the Council on Postsecondary Education and the Kentucky Board of Education, Kentucky’s Superintendents and Local Board Members, Kentucky’s College and University Presidents and Boards of Regents:
More than six weeks ago Kentucky schools, childcare centers and colleges closed as part of Kentucky’s strategic effort to stem the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus. We now find ourselves in unknown educational territory, as parents and educators work tirelessly to provide at-home learning opportunities for the students of the Commonwealth.
While the COVID-19 crisis has disrupted the lives of families from all demographics and socioeconomic backgrounds, we are writing today in the interest of our most vulnerable students – those who are economically disadvantaged (especially those struggling with food or housing insecurity), historically underserved, have disabilities, or are English learners.
In Kentucky’s K-12 system alone, 60.7% of its 646,766 students are identified as economically disadvantaged. Research shows that missed learning time can be highly damaging to students who are already underserved. We also know that across the state – especially in rural districts – inadequate access to the internet and other educational resources is widening disparities even further as the COVID-19 crisis continues to disrupt in-class learning.
Through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), Kentucky has been allocated $400.5 million to assist the state department of education, school districts, childcare centers and colleges and universities during this time. As the only independent, nonpartisan, citizen-led organization working to improve education at all levels in Kentucky, the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence urges you to distribute these funds in such a way that promotes continued excellence with equity and tracks innovation, ensuring the needs of ALL students are met and that we come out of this crisis stronger than we went in.
Methods to promote excellence with equity include: developing and identifying innovations demanded at this time to serve our students well, mental health and counseling supports for both students and educators; additional supports for districts/universities that serve large number of low-income students, English learners and students with disabilities; and support to child care providers to ensure services are available for Kentucky’s first responders and essential employees. We must also ensure childcare facilities can reopen and rehire staff when restrictions are lifted.
Since the disruptions caused by COVID-19 will likely impact students for years to come, it is critical that we support our educators as they plan for the challenges to come. Considerations should include how to leverage the summer months and how to structure the 2021 school year. Determining the extent of learning loss will be critical to triaging student need upon return to school. Plans should address how districts will assess learning loss, support students who are struggling academically and students in transition years (e.g., high school seniors or eighth graders), and provide mental health and counseling support that many will need.
While students and educators are facing significant disruptions and obstacles, each of you play a critical and influential role in ensuring learning continues for all students and that this crisis serves to strengthen our systems and our resolve to achieve our educational attainment goals. Whether it was the Great Depression, the Great Recession, or now the COVID-19 Crisis, we know individuals and families with higher levels of education are more resilient in times of economic downturn. Knowing that means we must do everything in our collective power, through this crisis, to continue to meet the needs of each and every one of our learners, regardless of circumstance or background, on their path to higher educational attainment. Thank you for all you are doing to lead Kentucky through this unprecedented global emergency.
Brigitte Blom Ramsey, President & CEO
The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence