For nearly 50 years, Education Law Center has successfully advocated for the legal rights of the nation’s public school students to a well-resourced, high quality education. While we have remained steadfast in our advocacy, we have adapted our work over these years to economic downturns and recessions, major political shifts, and an ever-changing education finance and policy landscape. We now bring these decades of experience and dedication to our core mission to tackling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the education rights of the children we serve.
David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought sudden and dramatic changes impacting state public education systems and affecting the rights of students under federal and state law. To stop the spread of coronavirus, governors across the country have ordered schools closed and local districts to provide learning opportunities to students through remote means. While it is still unclear when schools will reopen, it is increasingly likely students may not return to classroom instruction until the start of the 2020-21 school year at the earliest.
In addition, the broader measures to lessen and halt the spread of COVID-19 are having a dramatic effect on state economies and the local and state tax revenues that provide the lion’s share of funding for the state’s public schools. States are projecting significant state revenue shortfalls, and some have already announced budget reductions, including cuts to state school aid. When similar cuts were made during the Great Recession, the impacts were greatest on higher poverty districts with limited capacity to offset state aid cuts with local taxes.
The sudden transition from classroom to distance learning for an extended period of time has profound implications for education resources, school funding and student rights, especially for vulnerable and at-risk student populations.
To respond to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Education Law Center has shifted our advocacy to address three unprecedented, but interrelated, challenges in providing adequate and equitable educational opportunities for all students. We are working to ensure:
- Adequate resources to provide effective and equitable learning opportunities for all students by remote, digital means while schools are closed, followed by opportunities to make up for learning loss when schools reopen;
- School funding at adequate levels in state and local budgets to meet COVID-19-generated demand for resources; and
- Education rights of vulnerable and marginalized students, including students with disabilities, students of color, low-income students and English language learners.
To tackle these challenges, ELC will work to advance the following priorities to ensure that states:
- Provide effective and equitable learning resources and opportunities through remote means during school closure;
- Provide “compensatory” resources and opportunities to make up for learning loss as quickly as possible when students return to school;
- Provide adequate funding to school districts so they can meet the increased demand for resources from the impact of COVID-19 on student learning by, at a minimum, maintaining state support for K-12 education in the 2020-21 school year;
- Allocate federal emergency relief funds for schools to augment current funding levels; and
- Protect the rights of students during school closure and on reopening, especially students with disabilities, students of color, English language learners, homeless students and other students protected under state and/or federal law.
The COVID-19 pandemic demands that ELC respond to new and urgent challenges. But what will not change are ELC’s successful and effective advocacy strategies using research, policy development, coalition and network building, communications, and legal and litigation support. To this end, ELC will fully align our current state-level initiatives – our resource equity research project, support for the PEER network, the PFPS campaign to keep public funds in public schools, legal support and litigation, and our New Jersey- and New York-based advocacy – to focus on COVID-19 impacts through the 2020-21 school year with the same vision animating our work for decades: securing the right of all students to an education that prepares them for full participation in our democracy, civic life and economy.
Policy and Outreach Director
973-624-1815, x 24
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications