Press Release

United States House Committee on Education and Labor
“Inequities Exposed: How COVID-19 Widened Racial Inequities in Education, Health, and the Workforce”

OPENING STATEMENT
JOHN B. KING JR.
PRESIDENT AND CEO OF THE EDUCATION TRUST

Chairman Scott, Ranking Member Foxx, and members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify on racial equity and COVID-19.

This hearing takes place in the shadow of massive global protests against police violence seeking to ensure that “Black Lives Matter” is more than just a hashtag. The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Rayshard Brooks remind us yet again that systemic racism, anti-Blackness, and the legacy of slavery still infect our institutions, public discourse, and daily interactions. Now is the time to transform the lofty rhetoric of statements about solidarity into concrete action toward achieving justice.

Our education system is fraught with racial inequities that existed before COVID-19. Far too few Black and Latino children have access to affordable, high-quality preschool. Black children, especially Black boys, are disproportionately suspended and expelled from early learning programs. The pandemic has pushed our early childhood education sector toward collapse, which could have dire consequences for families of color and an early childhood workforce disproportionately made up of women of color.

Over 65 years after Brown v. Board of Education, district lines and school assignment policies still segregate K-12 students by race and class. Districts with the most Black, Latino, and Native American students spend almost $2,000 less per student per year than districts with mostly White students. Students of color are less likely to be assigned to the strongest teachers, less likely to have access to school counselors, less likely to be enrolled in advanced coursework, and more likely to be subjected to exclusionary discipline. These opportunity gaps in turn generate gaps in learning, high school graduation, and college matriculation.

The higher education sector still doesn’t reflect America’s diversity: Not one state’s public colleges enroll or graduate a representative share of Black and Latino students relative to the state population. Meanwhile, the burden of student debt falls disproportionately on Black students, who are more likely than their White peers to have to borrow and also more likely to default.

COVID-19 has exacerbated these educational disparities. During the necessary school closures, Black, Latino, and Native American students disproportionately had less access to devices and home internet service; teachers with less support to execute online learning; parents unable to telework and assist with schoolwork; and more socioemotional stressors. As noted in my recent Senate HELP Committee testimony: “Our nation’s students of color and their families find themselves enduring a pandemic that disproportionately impacts their health and safety, mired in an economic crisis that disproportionately affects their financial well-being, and living in a country that too often still struggles to recognize their humanity.”

In response, we urge Congress to take the following actions:

First: Congress must act boldly to support and strengthen P-12 education.

To address devastating budget shortfalls, over 70 stakeholders have called on Congress to allocate at least $500 billion for state and local governments, including at least $175 billion for K-12 education, and $50 billion for higher education. This federal stabilization funding must include a strong maintenance of effort provision, and add a maintenance of equity provision so states and districts can ensure that the most vulnerable students retain critical supports. Congress must allocate dedicated funding for broadband expansion to enable distance learning for millions of low-income students, for extended learning time to tackle the significant learning loss resulting from the pandemic, and for resources to address students’ and educators’ nutritional, social, emotional, and mental health needs. Congress should refrain from permitting blanket waivers to key civil rights laws like ESSA and IDEA, and protect the historic interpretation of the Title I equitable services provision in administering the CARES Act and future funds. Additionally, the federal government must promote diverse schools, require data to be disaggregated by race, and uphold students’ civil rights.

Second: Congress must enact equitable reforms to higher education.

Congress should extend the student loan relief provisions included in the CARES Act into next year and offer equitable, targeted debt forgiveness in recognition that the recession will make repaying student debt impossible for millions of borrowers. To counter widespread losses of financial assistance and employment, which may keep millions of students from enrolling or staying enrolled, Congress should double the Pell Grant and simplify the FAFSA process.

Implementing those policies would increase enrollment and limit debt for students of color, but there is more Congress can do, including: expanding Pell access to incarcerated students and undocumented students, increasing investments in HBCUs and MSIs, supporting diversity in educator preparation programs, investing in evidence-based strategies to improve outcomes for low-income students and students of color, reigning in predatory for-profit institutions, and collecting better data to monitor progress. Finally, the federal government should never waver in its commitment to protect the civil rights and safety of all students.

The racial inequities we face in education are significant, but not insurmountable. The Education Trust stands ready to assist you in the work ahead.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today. I look forward to taking your questions.

As 2020 Comes to a CloseSupport Educational Justice