Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey introduced legislation Wednesday that would create an application-based grant program to administer $100 billion in funding over the next 10 years to address the social, emotional, mental, and physical health needs of students related to impacts from COVID-19 and aid in accelerating academic progress.
The Educational Equity Challenge Grant Act of 2021, which would be administered by the Department of Education, was also introduced by Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, both of Connecticut.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated challenges faced by elementary and secondary schools already lacking in the funding and resources needed to provide for students, according to the lawmakers. With growing concerns that the COVID-19 outbreak is causing students to experience “learning loss,” creating increased mental health needs, and worsening the achievement gaps for students in low-income communities and communities of color, the proposed legislation aims to encourage evidence-based programs to support students suffering those impacts of the pandemic.
“Even before this public health crisis, many students faced inequity in our public school system — and COVID-19 has only exacerbated this problem, especially for students in low-income communities and communities of color who have been hit hard by this pandemic,” Warren said in a statement.
Since the consequences of the pandemic are expected to be long-term, the bill is positioned to encourage and fund programs that support children through their academic careers.
Under the proposed legislation, states, school districts, nonprofits working in partnership with districts, and the Bureau of Indian Education can apply for grants for two purposes. Applicants can apply for implementing evidence-based strategies or interventions that work to address the academic, social, emotional, mental, behavioral, or physical health needs of students associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Seventy-five percent of funds would be reserved for grantees to adopt those programs.
Meanwhile, 25 percent of funds would be reserved to support “field and educator initiated innovations” from applicants presenting proposals that would develop, or replicate, new ideas and strategies aimed at accelerating academic progress, while also addressing the social-emotional and mental/physical health needs associated with the pandemic for students.
According to the lawmakers, the Educational Equity Challenge Grant Act would also reserve funds for the Bureau of Indian Education, schools in rural areas, and proposals serving low-income students. The bill would require that the administration of the grants gives priority to applicants who serve higher percentages of high-needs students, including students of color and Native American students, low-income and homeless students, migrant children, young people in foster care, English learners, students with disabilities, and others who have “been disproportionately affected by COVID–19.”
“Without further investment from Congress, an entire generation of students in communities of color and low-income communities are at risk of being left behind,” Markey said in a statement. “Massachusetts educators and schools are ready to close learning gaps caused by inequity in our system and the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress just needs to give them the resources and support to get it done. The Educational Equity Challenge Grant Act will provide the investment in learning and well-being that students need. We cannot turn our back on this generation of students.”
The proposed legislation would require that at least 25 percent of all grant funds from the program be awarded to rural areas and that at least 50 percent of all funds go to entities serving low-income students.