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New Connections: Education Equity During COVID19

As Louisiana’s cases of COVID-19 continue to rise, residents are rightfully frightened about the looming public health and economic disaster bearing down on us. New Connections – a partnership between beBatonRouge x New Schools providing resources to the Baton Rouge community as we all navigate through unfamiliar territory. 

For the most part, children seem to be affected less by COVID-19’s symptoms than other populations. But that doesn’t mean they are immune from the effects of this crisis. Schools across Louisiana have closed indefinitely. And, as in so many other crises, it’s low-income children of color who will bear the brunt of the consequences. Here’s are two reasons why:

First, underprivileged children already face a steep opportunity and resource gap with their wealthier peers, but this gap is going to widen into a chasm for as long as schools are out of session. 

Remote learning isn’t an easy transition for anyone. But children in Louisiana’s wealthier communities have a big leg up. They have parents who are more likely to be able to stay at home without getting laid off from their jobs, and who can adjust their work schedules in order to spend time helping their kids learn. They have WiFi and computers in their homes, giving them the ability to access the wealth of remote learning tools available online. And, they’re far more likely to be food secure. Many Baton Rouge students depend on school meals for at least two of their meals each day. While food is still available to families who need it, it’s an additional burden for working parents to have to pick it up from a food site.

What’s more, a higher percentage of kids in Baton Rouge are students with special needs, and SES (special education services) programs are under-resourced in the best of times, let alone in the middle of a pandemic, when students have to access them remotely. 

The point is this: low-income students enter school at a disadvantage, and many schools spend years working to catch them up to their more advantaged peers. The shift to remote learning will not set each student back equally. The longer students are out of school, the wider the opportunity divide between high and low-income students will grow. 

Second, studies of the Great Recession showed that the national economic decline led to deep disinvestment in public education and measurable declines in student achievement.

3.3 millions Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, almost five times the one-week record set in 1982. As the country plummets into a recession, school budgets are at risk across the United States, particularly those in low-income districts. While wealthier districts fund their schools primarily through property taxes on homes, lower-income districts tend to rely more on state funding for education – which comes from sales taxes, income taxes, and other revenue sources that depend on people being employed and spending money. State education funding fell dramatically in the years after the financial crisis of 2008, and this led to districts cutting budgets across the country. We may see this happen again in 2020, and once again, it’s poor kids who will suffer most. 

As we navigate our way through the coming months of uncertainty, fear, and loss, let’s keep our kids in mind. They may not be at the greatest risk from the virus itself, but their futures are still at stake. 

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