Election 2020

Education Equity on the Ballot

U.S. Senate Runoff

Election 2020: Education Equity on the Ballot - U.S. Senate Runoff

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.

Issue Why It’s Important

COVID-19 Response and Broadband Access

School closures in the spring and fall caused a rapid, unplanned and widespread shift to distance learning. Most school districts lacked the technology and staff infrastructure to equitably transition to distance learning; yet they created and executed their plans, often with little external support. In light of the ongoing pandemic, candidates for the United States Senate should have a plan for addressing the educational ramifications of COVID-19 and the distance learning needs of students.

Related Resources from SEF:

Distance Learning During COVID-19: 7 Equity Considerations for Schools and Districts

Advancing Equity in Distance Learning: Dashboard and Briefs

Five Ways to Support Teachers as Schools Reopen

A Snapshot of Student Support Systems Across the South

Early Childhood Education

Investments in comprehensive, birth-to-five early childhood education increase student achievement and save taxpayer dollars by minimizing government costs to adults who received quality early educational experiences.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)

HBCUs are hubs of innovation, opportunity, and career development for Black students. While HBCUs constitute just 3 percent of America’s colleges and universities, they produce almost 20 percent of all Black graduates and 25 percent of Black graduates in STEM, and they can also be leveraged to diversify our nation’s predominantly white teaching workforce. Unlike major public research institutions and well-funded private universities, many HBCUs have smaller endowments and operate within tight margins. A substantial and targeted increase in funding for HBCUs from Congress would ensure that intergenerational funding disparities are addressed and would increase opportunities for Black students to enter the teaching profession.

Related Resource from SEF:

Investing in the Future: Lessons on Advancing Institutional Effectiveness from HBCUs

Private School Choice

Private school choice is the practice of using public, taxpayer dollars or dollar-for-dollar tax credits to fund student scholarships for private schools and private educational services. Most research findings show no material difference in learning outcomes for students who receive school vouchers or publicly-funded scholarships to attend private schools. In addition to diverting resources from public schools, all private schools – those that receive taxpayer dollars and those that do not – follow different accountability, reporting, regulatory, and admissions standards than public schools.

Related Resources from SEF:

School Privatization Policy Brief

School Privatization Fact Sheet

Resource Equity

Research shows that investments in public education matter, especially for students of color and students from low-income families. The changing and growing needs of students and districts today require additional targeted investments to decrease the gap in access to resources and opportunities for academic success. A key priority of all candidates for elected office should be to develop education funding formulas that account for the needs of students of color and students from low-income families.

Student Safety

School resource officers and school police, when untrained or deployed for minor offenses, can contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline and the incarceration of youth. The presence of police officers within schools has particularly negative consequences for Black students; federal data show that Black students are disproportionately referred to law enforcement for school-based offenses. Additionally, students of color, particularly Black students, are referred to administration, suspended, and expelled at higher rates than their white peers for similar infractions. Safe schools promote social and creative learning, exploration, and healthy emotional development. Increasing access to support services, such as mental health supports, by increasing funding for school-based counseling services, strengthening existing statewide intervention programs, and supporting schools in developing partnerships with community organizations can help address the root causes of student safety concerns and reduce the school-to-prison pipeline. Reversing disproportionate discipline for students of color and ending corporal punishment will also make schools safer places to learn. 

Teacher Recruitment and Retention

Research indicates that teachers, particularly teachers of color, have a positive impact on student success and academic performance. Public schools perform better when states invest in educators. Successful teacher recruitment efforts will involve the dedication of funding toward scholarship and loan forgiveness programs, leveraging community partnerships to enable teachers to teach in the communities they grew up in, and creating partnerships with institutions of higher education. Successful teacher retention efforts will involve ongoing professional development, adequate compensation, and ample opportunities for growth and leadership.

Wraparound Services and Community Schools

Wraparound services such as health care, nutrition, and social and emotional support are critical to ensuring that students’ needs outside of school are addressed. A concerted effort to focus on the “whole child” will allow students to thrive both within and beyond the classroom. Community schools are public schools that partner with families and community organizations to provide well-rounded educational opportunities and supports for student success. 

Related Resource from SEF:

Community Schools: Transforming Struggling Schools Into Thriving Schools

Next Steps

This guide is designed to provide you, the voter, with objective, factual information about the education platforms of candidates in both United States Senate races in the January 5th Georgia runoff election. We hope you find our candidate guide useful as you determine the issues that matter to you and cast your vote in January. Before you request your absentee ballot or go to the polls, we encourage you to check your polling place and the deadlines associated with absentee voting in Georgia.

Check Your Polling Location https://www.mvp.sos.ga.gov/MVP/mvp.do

Absentee Ballot Request and Other Information: https://ballotrequest.sos.ga.gov/  

If you have any questions or concerns about any of the information in this guide, please reach out to SEF’s Legislative and Research Analyst, Sujith Cherukumilli, at scherukumilli@southerneducation.org.