Federal officials hope a new council will pave the way for better communication between schools and the families they serve.
The U.S. Department of Education launched its National Parents and Families Engagement Council on June 14. The council will be tasked with identifying ways to help families engage with school districts at the local level.
Consisting of members from parent and family organizations across the country, the council will help families understand their rights, create a feedback loop with schools to shape how American Rescue Plan funds are used, and identify summer learning and enrichment opportunities for children, according to a news release.
“The Council will help foster a collaborative environment where we can work together to serve the best interest of students and ensure they have the academic and mental health support they need to recover from the pandemic and thrive in the future,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement.
Last year, the federal government allocated $122 billion through the American Rescue Plan for elementary and secondary pandemic recovery efforts, with $83 billion going directly to public schools. Included in that funding is a requirement that school districts gather parent feedback on how they should spend the money.
Mental health resources, social-emotional learning, teacher recruitment and retention, and academic recovery efforts like summer learning and after-school programs have emerged as top priorities in local plans for the funds, according to a study from FutureEd, a Georgetown University think tank dedicated to studying education issues.
Although family engagement is a requirement for the funding, some parent advocates argue not enough is being done to ensure parents are being heard. In a recent study of 100 large and urban school districts, the Center for Reinventing Public Education found that only 57 percent have created strategies to engage with families.
Nationally, 21 percent of parents said their children’s schools have asked for families to give input on how the funds should be used, and 46 percent of parents said they had heard about how the funding would be used as of last fall, according to a poll conducted by the National Parents Union, one of the groups included on the new council.
In a letter sent to members of Congress in September, the union demanded that officials provide more transparency around funding, ensure that school boards and districts effectively engage with families, and verify that funding is spent on investments rooted in equity.
“The boldest, baddest, and most beautiful families are going to make sure Secretary Cardona hears the pain, the struggle, the anxieties, and yes, even the triumphs, that we are all experiencing and what must be done to put children first, not special interests,” Keri Rodrigues, co-founder and president of the National Parents Union, said in a statement about the new council.
Vito Borrello, executive director of the National Association for Family, School, and Community Engagement, hopes the council is an initial step at the federal level for creating an infrastructure for parent engagement. The association included the new council as well as an office of family and community engagement as policy priorities for President Joe Biden’s administration.
“It’s a major step for the department to engage families as partners versus being simply looked at as public relations instruments,” Borrello said.
The council will hold its first meetings in the coming weeks, according to the news release. It will discuss how children are recovering from the pandemic, the different ways schools are providing academic, mental health and social-emotional support, and how the council members can engage with schools.
The education department and the council will also hold local listening sessions with parents, families, principals, educators, and school community members over the summer to better understand the needs of students as they start the next school year, the news release said.
The council will involve representatives of the following groups:
- The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates
- Fathers Incorporated
- Generations United
- Girls Inc.
- League of United Latin American Citizens
- Mocha Moms
- National Association for Family, School, and Community Engagement
- National Action Network
- National Military Family Association
- National Parent Teacher Association
- National Parents Union
- The National Center for Parent Leadership Advocacy, and Community Empowerment
- United Parent Leaders Action Network