House budget addresses COVID-related education dilemmas
Looks at early education, K-12 issues, digital divide
THE CORONAVIRUS pandemic created – and exposed – multiple problems with the state’s education system, from preschool through high school. Now, lawmakers appear poised to use the must-pass vehicle of the annual state budget to begin figuring out how to address some of these issues.
A large consolidated amendment passed at the end of Tuesday’s budget debate, after midnight, includes several education-related study commissions, funds, and data tracking requirements.
On the childcare side, Massachusetts’ childcare system is primarily private-pay and expensive, with some subsidies available for low-income children – a system that has long raised concerns about the lack of affordable, quality childcare for many families. Forced closures due to COVID-19 and expensive reopening requirements put many providers in financial peril.
The House budget includes several investments in early education, including a new $10 million fund to help lower income parents pay for childcare on a sliding scale.
The amendment would also establish a commission, led by the co-chairs of the Legislature’s Education Committee, to review how childcare programs are funded and make recommendations for legislative changes. The commission would look at COVID-19-related challenges, but would also look more broadly at what funding is available for childcare, models for providing care and what changes can be made to improve access to high-quality childcare.
On K-12 education, one big problem with remote learning is that some children simply have not logged in – and the state is not tracking how many students are in that category. The House budget amendment would require the creation of a remote learning attendance and participation tracking system, and every school district with remote learning would have to track and report publicly on the number of students who have not participated and what efforts have been made to reach those students.Another problem as schools rely heavily on internet-based learning is the long-standing divide between who has access to high-speed internet and who does not. Stories abound of rural students sitting in parking lots trying to access Wi-Fi because they lack a reliable broadband connection at home. The budget amendment would create a commission to study “equity and access to telecommunications service” including broadband internet and make recommendations for addressing the digital divide. The commission would be tasked with examining the problem in low-income communities and communities of color – where the barrier is often money to pay for internet service – and in rural communities, where the problem is often a lack of connectivity.
The House also wants to require the Department of Children and Families to monitor and report on school attendance for students with open DCF cases.