Home > Essays > Columbia Teachers College Highlights Another Wasted COVID Opportunity: A Chance to Use American Rescue Funds to Respond to Needs of Black Students

Columbia Teachers College Highlights Another Wasted COVID Opportunity: A Chance to Use American Rescue Funds to Respond to Needs of Black Students

July 28, 2021

The NYTimes reported yesterday on a study completed by Teachers College at Columbia illustrating the devastating impact of COVID on Black students and underscoring the need for federal funds to be used to address this deficiency.

The opening paragraphs detail the lack of confidence Black Americans have in the government due to the response to the events of January 6, the continuing police brutality, and the seeming tolerance for systemic racism. This information was astonishing but unsurprising. The information on the disproportionate impact  of COVID on the Black community, though, was stunning:

According to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, Black Americans are 2.8 times as likely to be hospitalized for Covid-19 as white Americans are, and twice as likely to die from the disease. Black Americans also saw a steeper drop in life expectancy during the pandemic than white Americans did.

Sixty percent of respondents said they lived with an essential or frontline worker who performed a job in unsafe conditions. Nearly one-third of all survey respondents had lost a family member, a friend or a neighbor to Covid-19. About one-third of the survey participants faced job insecurity, and over 50 percent experienced employment status changes, according to the report. The level of loss, along with uncertain pandemic responses, negatively affected the mental health of about 86 percent of participants.

Given that the spotlight on the injustices visited on Blacks intensified at the same time as COVID wracked their communities, given the disproportionate percentage of Blacks who held essential or frontline work, and given the relentless negative reporting on civil rights initiatives like BLM and CRT, why would a Black child be eager to return to school… especially if that school is overcrowded, under-resourced, and dilapidated.

The solution advanced by Columbia Teachers College probably has no chance of passing given the many issues Congress needs to address, but it is a justified and reasonable one:

“For years we’ve talked about reimagining education and reinventing education. And we actually have a window by which we can do that,” Dr. (Sonya Douglass) Horsford (associate professor of education leadership at Columbia’s Teachers College and an author of the report) said.

The report notes that the “separate and unequal” design of schools keeps them “ill-equipped” to teach and take care of 7.7 million Black students at nearly 100,000 public schools in the United States.

In order to rebuild trust, the study’s authors wrote, leaders should begin to view students, parents and educators as “equal partners in education.” The report recommends using funds allocated to schools by the American Rescue Plan — nearly $122 billion — to respond to the academic and mental health needs of Black students.

Some of these solutions include simply investing in school infrastructure and hiring more Black teachers to update school curriculums to better understand Black history in the United States.

“I see the timing as really being great to pose a set of solutions and research-based recommendations that could help local communities — including students and parents and those who are reflected in the study — to put forth a set of recommendations for how those dollars should be spent,” Dr. Horsford said.

I am certain that those who cannot see the need for reparations will view this as a backdoor means of accomplishing that goal and know that many underfunded rural districts need facilities upgrades and improved teaching staffs. But given the higher incidence of COVID in the Black communities and the high percentage of Blacks who helped see us through the pandemic, now would be a good time to make amends and, at the very least, simply invest in the infrastructure and staffing needed in schools serving predominantly Black children.

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