English learners, students with disabilities, students of color and students who identify as LGBTQ faced hardships to access and opportunities during the pandemic, while nearly all students have experienced mental health challenges, according to a report released by the U.S. Department of Education Wednesday.
The disparities, many of which existed before the pandemic, are “cause for great concern,” the 53-page report said. Although the report is not a legal analysis, it does point out disparities can sometimes be evidence of legal injuries under federal civil rights laws, such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Guidance was also released for how school systems should prevent disproportionate budget cuts or staff reductions. The maintenance of equity guidance will help schools that have historically been underfunded and rely more on state funding compared to districts with fewer underserved students.
The documentation the Education Department collected about COVID-19’s impact on certain student groups was based on interviews and publicly available sources, such as assessment results and surveys from education administrative organizations. The document is part of a “developing story” on how the pandemic has worsened educational opportunities for marginalized students, according to the report.
Also impacted by the pandemic and school closures were Asian American students who faced increased risk of harassment and discrimination, as well as students, especially girls, who suffered heightened risk of sexual abuse, harassment or violence.
“These disparities can be a cause for great concern, especially when they interfere with a student’s opportunity to learn, grow, and contribute to our nation’s future,” the report said.
Attention to these disparities is vital for building equal opportunities in K-12 education during pandemic recovery, the report said. States and districts should close opportunity gaps through money from three relief packages equaling nearly $200 billion of which districts have broad flexibility to spend on academic and SEL supports, equitable digital resources and more, the Education Department advises.
The maintenance of equity guidance details the calculations for how to protect high-need school districts from cuts in state funding in FY 2022 and 2023 on a per-student basis, and that high-poverty school districts receive at least as much in state funding in FY 2022 and FY 2023 as they did in FY 2019 on a per-student basis. For example, if there is a $100 per-student reduction in state funds for all students, the state would not meet its maintenance of equity obligation if it reduced a high-need school district’s per-student funding from $14,150 in FY 2021 to $14,000 in FY 2022 — a cut of $150.