By Kendall Evans, Education Policy Analyst, UnidosUS
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every facet of life, with education being no exception. Though the pandemic has uprooted the lives of many students, there are certain student groups that are more vulnerable than their peers and whose learning could be most impacted by the novel coronavirus. For example, the 4.9 million English learners (ELs) enrolled in K-12 public schools, face additional challenges during this crisis because nearly 60% of ELs live in households where incomes are less than 185% of the federal poverty line, and nearly 700,000 ELs also have disabilities. In order to ensure that ELs receive high-quality online instruction amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, there needs to be additional federal funding for states and districts to meet their unique needs.
Currently, despite their best efforts, educators are struggling to provide high-quality online instruction to ELs due to lack of electronic devices, access to broadband connectivity, digital curricula designed specifically to address the unique needs of EL students, and professional development in online instruction. We do not yet know how long the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the world or how long it will be before brick and mortar schools can reopen, so ensuring that EL students—a population that has grown by almost 30% over the past two decades—are able to learn remotely during this period is of extreme importance.
Title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) was established to ensure that federal funds support the education of ELs to meet state academic standards. It is the only federal funding stream specifically dedicated to the teaching and learning of ELs, and it is sorely underfunded. Though the population continues to grow, dedicated funds for EL students have only increased by 1% since 2009. The U.S. Department of Education requires that Title III funds be used for language instruction education programs (LIEPs), professional development, and other activities such as parent, family, and community engagement. Now, because of the novel coronavirus, the scope of need has widened and targeted funds for the needs of ELs have not.
While the CARES Act has provided much needed relief for schools and communities across the country, and the newly House-passed HEROES Act goes further by expanding funding for broadband and public schools, there has been increased need for support of EL students that requires even more federal funding. These bills neither provide dedicated funding for EL students, nor make any assurances that ELs will receive enough educational support during this public health crisis.
UnidosUS has urged Congress to support $1 billion in supplemental funding for Title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the next COVID-19 relief package to help ensure that states and district have the necessary resources to address the unique needs of EL students. Rep. Langevin and Rep Espaillat co-led a Dear Colleague letter in the House that echoed our letter’s priorities and included the additional $1 billion for Title III in their ask to congressional leadership. The press release can be found here.