Pages tagged "Drew Aherne"
How to ensure children are able to receive a quality education in the wake of COVID-19
Every facet of the lives of children and families are being disrupted during this historic public health and economic crisis. Unfortunately, both their short-term and long-term consequences and challenges are not being fully considered or discussed. This crisis is severe and will last for months or even years to come. Moreover, the resulting physical and mental health consequences, impact on education and child development, and economic implications of this calamity will last well beyond the coronavirus itself.
That is why First Focus Campaign for Children called on Congress to safeguard the physical, emotional, financial, and developmental health and well-being of our nation’s 74 million children with a specific package of legislative proposals across a range of issues — including education.
As schools remain closed and students continue their education from home, it is imperative that emergency resources allocated for education reach all students equally and provide all students with the ability to continue learning during this crisis. The CARES Act provided a good start to doing so, allocating nearly $31 billion for educational services. However, there remains concern regarding challenges to online learning for vulnerable students, including low-income, rural, and special education students. We urge Congress to do the following to ensure that all students are able to maintain a quality education:
- Close the “Homework Gap”: Allocate funds from the Education Stabilization Fund to address the “homework gap,” affecting the more than 7 million K-12 students who do not have access to Wi-Fi, connection devices, or mobile wireless service at home. To address this gap, Congress should waive regulations for the E-rate program and provide additional appropriations of $2 billion to address technology inconsistencies across schools.
- Ensure Quality Distance Learning for Special Education Students: Rescind waiver authority given under the CARES Act to the U.S. Secretary of Education regarding guidance for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or the Rehabilitation Act (REHAB). In times like this, no action should be taken to undermine the civil rights of students with disabilities. With regard to continuing education for special education students, the U.S. Department of Education and Congress should continue to provide Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to students with disabilities, continue involving parents in the decision-making process for their child, keep parents’ right to due process intact, and use federal funds to adhere to civil rights given under IDEA and the REHAB Act.
- Assist Students in Receiving Support to Which They Are Entitled: Require institutions of higher education to proactively reach out and inform all students who were classified as independent students about emergency aid that may be available, and give them priority access to assistance. In addition, institutions should be required to streamline financial aid determinations for homeless and foster youth, and provide assistance in completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.
- Prepare for Increased Need for Summer Learning and Afterschool Programs: Provide an immediate funding increase of $500 million for 21st Century Community Learning Centers to address increased need for summer learning programs later this summer and afterschool programs in the fall. Furthermore, provide flexibility for programs to serve students in ways that work for each community, and do not punish grant-funded afterschool programs that cannot operate due to unsafe public health conditions.
For a full list of our specific policy recommendations across the array of children’s issues, check out our letter to Congress.
Stop the Block: Proposed Block Grants of School Meals Programs Put Hungry Kids at Risk
With the newly marked-up Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 (H.R. 5003) recently moving through the House Education and the Workforce Committee on a strictly partisan vote, it is time to confront the ill-advised provisions that make Representative Todd Rokita’s (R-IN) bill deeply troubling in nature. The bill threatens to increase food insecurity for already needy children under the guise of an improved and more efficient system. In order to truly provide children with the proper meals and nutrition that are essential during their most formative years, we need to expand access to healthy meals throughout the year rather than create even more uncertainty for struggling families. Specifically, First Focus strongly opposes the bill’s provision that proposes block grants on child nutrition programs for up to three states, which would provide insufficient funds and abandon the science-based standards enacted under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.
The bill is riddled with potentially damaging provisions, in which the beneficiaries of school meal programs would be hit the hardest. Sadly, those beneficiaries happen to be disadvantaged children. Some of the provisions in question include: cutting coverage for the community eligibility provision, increasing verification paperwork, lowering nutrition standards for school meals, and limiting the effectiveness Summer Food Service Program and the Child and Adult Care Food Program. These misguided proposals would, in turn, lead to not only fewer children receiving the food they need, but would lower the quality of meals as well.
However, the most troubling aspect of H.R. 5003 is the three state school meal block grant demonstration that aims to replace the School Breakfast, National School Lunch, and Special Milk programs. Under a block grant, the funding for these programs would be capped at the amount that a state received in Fiscal Year 2016. The various current reimbursements that schools receive for providing free or reduced price meals are not included in the proposed block grants, thus limiting the incentive for schools to provide affordable meals.
Despite the bill’s attempts to disguise the block grant as something more revolutionary and flexible, school meal programs will simply be thrown into the mix along with a number of other social service programs, and their funding will inevitably shrink. Depleted funding is not acceptable for these programs considering that children’s healthy development hangs in the balance. Along with cuts in funding, states will also have the discretion to determine which children are eligible for free or reduced-price meals and ignore any national nutrition standards. It is clear that these block grants would inevitably decrease the number of hungry children that receive the meals they need.
Ending child hunger should without a doubt be a bipartisan issue; however, the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 relinquishes this notion. The repercussions of this bill, if passed, would be far more detrimental to this country than the marginal amounts of money that it saves the government. There is no price tag on a child’s health, therefore we cannot allow the passage of a bill that directly hinders the welfare of children and allows for them to miss out on vital meals.