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Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has made inequity in the K-12 system a priority. But the response has varied in levels of sincerity across the nation’s more than 13,000 school districts. Here are the highlights:

The call

  • Secretary Miguel Cardona told state and district leaders that they needed to do more to put equity front and center.
  • “We need our states and districts to fix broken systems that perpetuate inequities in our schools across the country.” he said.
  • However, communities are split in how they view the federal government’s priorities for education.

Who is heading the call

  • There are plenty of examples of states and districts heeding Cardona’s big ask by boosting funding for their K-12 systems and placing equity at the forefront of their educational strategies.
  • California – $3 billion to transform schools in their most impoverished neighborhoods.
  • Massachusetts – $500 million in new K-12 spending that prioritizes low-income students, English learners and those with disabilities.
  • Michigan – 8% increase for K-12 funding in the state’s 2023 budget.
  • Tennessee – major effort to hire more teachers of color by adopting a statewide policy that requires school districts to submit diversity goals and annual progress reports to its education department to close gaps between its teaching force (80% white), and its student body (40% of color).
  • Colorado, Illinois, North Carolina and Washington – enacted statewide policies that give students the right to advanced coursework if they demonstrate readiness = more low-income students and students of color accessing AP classes than ever before.
  • Colorado, Louisiana, New Mexico and Tennessee – using a significant portion of their federal coronavirus aid from the American Rescue Plan to support tutoring programs for students most impacted by the pandemic.
  • All great examples likely to result in a positive impact, but it is not enough.
  • We need more states moving in that direction to provide equitable funding and resources.

Indications of non-support

  • Darien, Connecticut, Cardona’s home state, voted down a program designed to address racial and economic disparities that exist between cities and neighboring suburbs by allowing kindergarteners from neighboring Norwalk to attend their schools.
  • Mounting efforts by Republican-controlled states and school boards to strip from their curricula topics deemed “divisive,” including the issues of race and racism in U.S. history – directly at odds with Cardona’s push to inject more equity into the country’s public school system.
  • Maryland – Baltimore stands to lose out on $99 million in Governor’s proposed budget that will no longer fund nor prioritize districts who are serving large concentrations of low-income students.

Conclusion

  • Over the past 20 to 30 years we’ve seen state and federal progress in addressing the deeply inequitable funding structures in this country, but it is only scratching the surface.
  • Expanded Title I funding and IDEA funding at the federal level (as being explored by the Biden administration) and putting regulations and guidelines in place to fund those for states to fund those populations with more targeted grants commensurate with the actual costs, then we could actually start to make some structural changes.

Conclusion by Cardona quote

  • “It is our moment to finally make education the great equalizer, the force that can help every student thrive, no matter their background, ZIP code, circumstance or language they speak at home.”
  • Addressing inequity in the K-12 system will be the education community’s “hardest and most important work” – work that they will be judged against.

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