FLORIDA – Education advocates are urging state leaders in Florida to use the nearly billion dollars the state is receiving in federal emergency funding to eliminate education inequities and support children and families disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 school closures.
The Florida Department of Education is set to receive more than $770 million in funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and at least 90 percent of those funds will go to districts across the state. Gov. Ron DeSantis will separately receive approximately $174 million as part of the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER Fund) under the CARES Act. The law gives the state and districts significant discretion on how these funds are spent.
In a letter sent Thursday to DeSantis and state Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, more than 20 organizations representing a diverse group of students, educators, families, and advocates from communities across our state warned that without a strategic investment of resources, the opportunity gap between students could widen during the pandemic due to inequities in access to technology, space to learn and caretaker support.
The letter offers a framework for how state leaders can provide leadership, guidance, and support to districts in use of the emergency education funding to advance educational equity during the pandemic. It also urges the state to keep its share of the funding in public schools, and to direct those resources to schools with the highest proportion of low income children, children of color, children experiencing homelessness, children with disabilities, children in immigrant families, children in foster care, LGBTQ children and children in the juvenile justice system.
The groups encourage meaningful engagement by ensuring the education working group of the Re-Open Florida Task Force includes parents, educators, students, counselors, advocates and other education experts to help guide state and district plans for the new funding and ensure that evidence-based decisions are made to reduce or eliminate educational inequities.
The SPLC Action Fund is among the groups signing the letter.
“With millions of federal dollars for education relief coming to Florida, Governor DeSantis and Superintendent Richard Corcoran have an opportunity to ensure that the thousands of children across Florida who are unable to attend school in person due to the coronavirus have the supports they need to continue learning at home,” said Bacardi Jackson, managing attorney for the SPLC Action Fund.
“Students with disabilities and low-income students will likely face some of the biggest hurdles, including a lack of access to technology, school meals, and health and mental health services. In this time of crisis, they no doubt will need a substantial amount of resources to support their learning. We urge state leaders to be intentional in allocating the funds towards serving students with the greatest need.”
“As our state and nation grapple with the novel coronavirus outbreak, state leaders must seize every opportunity to eliminate educational inequities for our most vulnerable children. Through the emergency CARES Act funding, Governor DeSantis and State Commissioner Richard Corcoran can help ensure that every child, regardless of income or status, has access to quality resources and services to support their learning at home,” said Maria Rodriguez, Executive Director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, another group signing the letter.
Other groups signing the letter include the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida; ADL Florida; Disability Rights Florida; Florida Badass Teachers’ Association; Florida Center for Fiscal and; Economic Policy; Florida Council of Churches; Florida PTA; Florida People’s Advocacy Center; Florida Policy Institute; Fund Education Now; Intercultural Development Research Association; League of Women Voters of Florida; League of United; Latin American Citizens of Florida; New Florida Majority; NAACP Florida State Conference; Pastors for Children; Pastors for Florida Children; Power U Center for Social Change; SOUL; Sisters Leadership Collective; and United We Dream.