Education

Briefly Stated: June 9, 2021

June 08, 2021 8 min read

Biden’s K-12 Budget Seeks $20 Billion For Equity, Salaries

President Joe Biden is not thinking small—or even incremental. He has proposed an ambitious $6 trillion budget that calls for dramatic increases in K-12 spending, including $20 billion in new incentives to states to raise teacher pay and address inequity in school funding.

The proposal would increase the U.S. Department of Education’s discretionary budget for the coming fiscal year to $102.8 billion, about 41 percent—that is correct—above current levels. The plan echoes Biden’s pledge as a candidate to push for a potentially transformational surge of new money for education.

At the core of his education budget: new “equity grants” that would more than double funding for Title I, a grant program for educating disadvantaged students, to $36.5 billion from about $16 billion, the largest increase in the program’s history.

Funding would flow through a new formula to address state and local funding models that “favor wealthier districts over districts with concentrated poverty,” a department document says. That’s likely to create political friction, as have previous efforts to tie strings to new federal funds.

Politicians concerned about equity have long pointed to challenges with education funding systems. Predominantly white districts receive billions of dollars more than districts primarily serving students of color.

Some lawmakers have said the existing Title I formula does not adequately address funding gaps between schools. Rather than replace that formula, the Biden plan would break out new Title I funds into the separate grant. To get that money, states would have to submit plans on how they would track and address gaps in their funding systems, ensure teachers are compensated at levels comparable to other professionals with similar education and experience, ensure students have access to advanced coursework, and increase access to early-childhood programs.

No question the proposal will face resistance in a deeply divided Congress, where even some moderate Democrats have been skeptical of plans to increase corporate taxes to pay for it.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, called Biden’s proposal a “blueprint for higher taxes, excessive spending, and disproportionate funding priorities.”

GOP Submits Infrastructure Plan Omitting Funds for Nearly Anything School-Related

Based on a proposal pushed out by Senate Republicans, you’d have to conclude that safe and modern schools are not a top priority for the GOP.

Their proposal on federal investment in the nation’s infrastructure, unveiled late last month, includes no money for school construction and renovation.

President Joe Biden in March proposed the American Jobs Plan, which would amount to $2.3 trillion in federal spending on a broad list of priorities, including roads, bridges, waterways, public transportation, and airports.

Several of its initiatives focus on K-12: $50 billion in grants and $50 billion in bonds for school building improvements; $20 billion for electrifying school buses; $45 billion for eliminating the nation’s lead pipes, including those that send water to schools; and $100 billion to achieve broadband connectivity in every home by 2030.

The one-page Republican proposal omits the first three items and shrinks the proposed broadband investment to $65 billion. It also proposes a total of $257 billion in new investments, less than one-sixth of what the administration wants.

Republicans have blasted the American Jobs Plan as wasteful spending and a departure from traditional infrastructure. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., told CNBC that she believed Republicans in Congress would not have an appetite to invest in “extra infrastructure areas” like schools.

Following the release of the GOP plan, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration is concerned about omissions of several key priorities, including the decision to abandon lead pipes nationwide. Negotiations are continuing.

The National Council for School Facilities estimates the nation is spending roughly half of what it needs to on an annual basis to keep up with routine building maintenance, modernize aging systems, and stay ahead of enrollment growth and rapid advancements in technology.

Aside from a handful of narrowly targeted grants and bonds, the federal government’s last major investment in K-12 school buildings was before World War II, during the Franklin D. Roosevelt presidency.

Despite Gains, School District Leaders Still Worry About Home Internet Access for All Students

Kudos for school districts. They’ve come a long way over the past year in providing students access to digital learning tools at home—just not far enough. That’s the gist of a new survey indicating the technology gap remains a top concern for district leaders.

The Consortium for School Networking, in partnership with AASA, the School Superintendents Association, polled leaders in nearly 400 urban, suburban, and rural districts nationwide.

The results show districts are much more attentive to home-internet connections for students. Back in 2020, when the pandemic was just a few months old, almost half of district leaders surveyed by CoSN said their districts did not provide off-campus broadband services. That percentage plummeted this year, with only 5 percent of respondents saying their districts don’t provide some sort of off-campus internet services.

In this most recent survey, about 70 percent of school systems reported that they gave out Wi-Fi hotspots to help students get connected. That’s compared with just 17 percent saying they had doled out hotspots for off-campus use in 2020. And this school year, a little over a quarter of district leaders said they worked to provide subsidized home internet for families, a big increase over last school year’s 10 percent.

Despite the progress, technology-equity issues remain a top concern for district leaders. Ninety-seven percent ranked it as a serious issue, making it the third-most-urgent problem overall. What’s more, 65 percent said they had “significant” concerns about equity.

Cybersecurity, though, remains their No. 1 priority, with privacy and security coming in second place, according to the survey.

One of the big technology lessons of the pandemic is that schools were not prepared to pivot to remote and hybrid learning. It was a logistical mess in most districts.

That was especially the case when it came to providing remote IT support. Sixty-one percent of district leaders surveyed said their districts were not prepared to offer what one survey participant described as a “nonstop help desk.”

Another survey participant said, “We went from having one district network to support to having 20,000 networks to support.”

Chicago Gets a Step Closer to an Elected School Board

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is not happy with her fellow Democrats.

Over her objections, the Illinois Senate, overwhelmingly made up of members of Lightfoot’s party, voted last week to transition Chicago’s mayor-appointed school board to a fully elected, 21-member body by 2027.

If the Democratic-controlled House and Gov. J.B. Pritzker, also a Democrat, go along with the Senate, approval of the long-discussed, politically volatile issue will mark a first. Chicago has never had an elected school board, with the seven-member panel for the last few decades entirely appointed by the mayor.

“Suffice it to say, the problems that have been created by the mayoral-controlled board in the city of Chicago are numerous and profound,” said Sen. Robert Martwick, a Democrat and the bill’s sponsor. “This is about creating elected accountability.”

Advocates for an elected school board have argued residents have been shut out of the process over how the city’s schools are administered, pointing to rounds of school closures and the district’s financial woes as reasons for change.

When Lightfoot ran for office, she supported an elected board but has since changed her view and said the mayor should remain in control of the public schools, though she has wiggled a little on just how much control. On June 1, the day of the Senate vote, her administration said it was committed to the concept of an elected board but called the timeline too fast and the 21 seats unwieldy. She urged a hybrid board for which the mayor would appoint the majority.

The bill also establishes a moratorium on school closings until a hybrid board takes effect in 2025.

The legislation does not address the fact that City Hall subsidizes the district with payments of some $500 million per year, much of it going toward pensions.

Student Seclusion, Restraint Are Widespread in Illinois

Illinois school workers physically restrained or secluded nearly 2,400 students more than 15,000 times this school year, a period when many schools were closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, new state data show.

The data, obtained by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica, show that even with new rules put in place early last year, schools continued to use physical restraints and isolated timeout thousands of times. The data include public schools, private schools, and regional cooperatives that exclusively serve students with disabilities.

After the media reported the data on May 27, state lawmakers wasted no time to finalize legislation they had been debating for 18 months. The Illinois House voted unanimously May 30 to bar school workers from locking children alone in seclusion spaces and limit the use of any type of isolated timeout or physical restraint to when there’s “imminent danger of physical harm.”

The Senate previously voted to pass the bill, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker plans to sign it.

Opposition stemmed mainly from a few suburban private schools that have argued prone restraint should be allowed for students in crisis.

Illinois schools’ overuse and abuse of seclusion and restraint was exposed in a ProPublica-Tribune investigation published in late 2019. Following that investigation, the Illinois state board began requiring schools to report incidents of seclusion and restraint to the state within 48 hours. The latest data are based on those reports.

More than 90 percent of the students subjected to the interventions since July 2020 had disabilities. More than 8 in 10 were boys, and a quarter were Black. Less than 17 percent of students in the state’s schools are Black.

The data also indicates that schools continued to use prone restraint even after state officials called it dangerous and state rules began to restrict its use. Schools reported using prone restraints on students more than 100 times during the past 10 months.

Due to a printing error, this edition of Briefly Stated appeared in both Issue 35 and 36 of Education Week.
Evie Blad, Staff Writer; Alyson Klein, Assistant Editor; Mark Lieberman, Reporter; and Tribune News Service contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the June 09, 2021 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed