The Southern Education Foundation (SEF) is encouraging governors and state education agencies in nine southern states to use their share of K-12 relief funding under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to advance education equity and improve public schools in the state. The states are Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.
ARPA provides $1.9 trillion in federal relief to help states, territories and localities address the health, economic and educational ramifications of COVID-19. The legislation includes a total of nearly $130 billion for K-12 public schools in the third iteration of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSERF III). That sum has the potential to transform opportunities and outcomes for millions of public school students nationwide.
In the letters (see sidebar), SEF President and CEO Raymond Pierce notes how the persistence of the pandemic has taken a financial toll on public education budgets that will alter state education systems for years to come. He also points out that inequities experienced by the most vulnerable students, which were present before the pandemic, will continue to manifest in various ways unless action is taken. He calls on governors and their education agencies to prioritize the needs of their most vulnerable students – students with disabilities, students from low-income families, students of color, English language learners (ELLs), and other historically underserved students and families.
The letters urge governors and education agencies to take the following actions:
- Articulate measurable equity goals and demonstrate public transparency around how relief dollars are being disbursed and spent.
- Devise a comprehensive plan to permanently close the digital divide and ensure that the state’s digital infrastructure is equipped to support families through another crisis.
- Purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) for K-12 students and staff members, develop a strong COVID-19 testing infrastructure in schools, and upgrade ventilation systems and infrastructure for schools.
- Support the implementation of whole child supports, comprehensive summer learning, enrichment, and afterschool activities as parts of the state’s strategy for recuperating lost learning time.
- Assist child care and early childhood education providers in remaining open, retaining staff members, and facilitating students’ early learning and development.
- Adhere to maintenance of effort and maintenance of equity requirements in the ARPA.
Read the chart of ARPA allocations for each of the nine states and the rest of the South.