On January 5, 2021, voters in Georgia will cast their ballots in a Senate runoff election that will determine the balance of power in the 117th Congress and the first two years of the Biden-Harris Administration. Those who are elected will have the opportunity to lead and set a path to overcome the equity challenges uncovered by this year, including providing all students equitable opportunities to learn.
A strong public education system is vital to achieving equity in our society. In the words of United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, “we are never going to reach equality in America until we achieve equality in education.” The events of 2020 have underscored the truth of these words. As schools throughout the South and the rest of the nation shuttered in March due to COVID-19, a vast digital divide between wealthy and low-income students became apparent. Millions of students in the South struggled to access and utilize online learning platforms. Millions lost access to critical services provided by their schools, such as nutritious meals, health care, and mental health support. In the spring, educators struggled to adapt to an exclusively online teaching environment and, as the fall approached, took issue with hasty school reopening plans in some of the southern states most heavily affected by COVID-19. While many school districts adapted and developed short- and long-term distance learning protocols, state budget shortfalls and limited federal relief funds prevented a more robust response to the growing crisis in education. Federal leaders play an important role in the authorization of emergency COVID-19 relief funds for public schools in the South; as deliberations for a new relief package continue to run into partisan roadblocks, schools and students remain in need of additional aid. Now, voters have the opportunity to decide the direction and agenda of how swiftly and comprehensively the federal government will respond to COVID-19 in 2021.
Education on the Ballot
Education is on the ballot in the Georgia runoff election for two United States Senate seats. In addition to their influence over emergency relief funds for public education, United States Senators wield varying levels of influence and power on critical items such as funding for underserved schools, teacher pay, private school choice policies, and funding for institutions of higher education and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). They also have the authority to confirm President-elect Biden’s nominees for U.S. Secretary of Education and various deputy and assistant secretary positions in the Department of Education. Education policy decisions are important, as they often have the most serious financial implications, furthest reach and greatest potential to make a difference in students’ lives.
The Races We Are Focused On
Georgia is the only state in the nation this year with elections for both of its Senate seats. A special election featuring appointed incumbent Senator Kelly Loeffler (R) and Reverend Raphael Warnock (D) and an on-schedule election featuring incumbent Senator David Perdue (R) and Jon Ossoff (D) are the final two races of the 2020 election cycle. Given the important role of the federal government in allocating education funding to states and supporting the needs of vulnerable student populations through programs such as Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), SEF has conducted a thorough review of the education policy positions and platforms of all four Senate candidates in Georgia as an extension of our Election 2020: Education Equity on the Ballot project.
Setting the Agenda
The candidates elected to the United States Senate from Georgia will have the opportunity to work with the Biden-Harris Administration to drive education policy decisions for students across Georgia and the nation. Therefore, it is important to ensure that candidates’ positions are rooted in equity for students of color and students from low-income families, a desire to advance and improve public education and a plan to build a strong, diverse teacher workforce that will foster safe and nurturing school environments. As we designed our candidate survey and profiles for Election 2020: Education Equity on the Ballot U.S. Senate Runoff, we selected issues that are consistent with our Public Policy Priorities, resonant with the political and cultural moment our nation is in, and indicative of what it will take to expand opportunities and improve achievement for students of color and students from low-income families in Georgia and across the nation. The issue areas we selected and an explanation of each are below.