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Cheerios and Cheers: A 100 Day Celebration of Public Education

by Elizabeth Schneider, Chief Officer of Strategic Initiatives, NEA Foundation

The 100th day of school is a widely celebrated day for elementary school students across the country. Cheerio necklaces with 100 pieces are carefully strung. Scavenger hunts are conducted to round up 100 items and art projects showcase 100 dots in different formations.

As we hit the 100th day of the Biden Administration, what are the causes for public school advocates to celebrate? I would suggest three milestones that bode well for a bright future.

An Education Secretary Who Values Public Schools
President Biden made good on his campaign promise to pick a public educator as his Secretary of Education. Unlike his predecessor who had no experience with the public education system, Secretary Miguel Cardona served as a classroom teacher, district administrator, assistant superintendent and state education chief prior to his nomination. Since his confirmation, Secretary Cardona has helped provide clear guidance leading to a steady increase of in-person learning while visiting schools to see how things are going first-hand.

A Commitment to Addressing Educational Equity
Not only has the administration recognized the profound educational inequities exacerbated even further by the pandemic, it has also delivered support to address them by allocating $123 billion for K-12 education as part of the American Rescue Plan. In recognition of the widespread and disparate impact of pandemic-related disruptions to learning, the plan requires states to reserve 5% and school districts to reserve 20% of these funds to address “learning loss” (a term rightly being replaced by “learning acceleration”) through evidence-based interventions. Recognizing the toll of the pandemic on student learning and well-being, the plan requires that such interventions respond to students’ academic, social and emotional needs and that they address the disproportionate impact on historically underserved students.

To help highlight the importance of educators leading an equity-focused recovery from the pandemic, the NEA Foundation has launched a new Envision Equity Grant program. Learn more about this new opportunity here.

More Help Is On the Way
A final reason to celebrate 100 days of a Biden-Harris Administration is the vision for education as expressed by the President’s budget request for FY 2022. As has been widely noted, under this proposal federal education spending would increase 41% over its current allocation, reaching $102 billion next fiscal year. Importantly, most of those funds ($36.5 billion) would be devoted to high-poverty schools through Title I grants. The budget request would also provide historic levels of federal funding for community schools, in recognition of the profound effect that physical and mental health have on academic achievement as well as the positive educational benefit of engaging students, families and communities in education.

Specifically, the budget request calls for $443 million for Full Service Community Schools, a much-needed boost to the program’s current level of funding at $30 million. Prior to the pandemic, over 40,000 Title I schools were identified as having concentrations of students in poverty that would benefit significantly from the coordinated and enhanced supports and enrichment provided by community schools. Many of those districts are located in the South where the NEA Foundation has launched a Southern Regional Alliance on Community Schools to support the growing demand for community schools.

While the 100-day marker of school or a new administration may offer valuable opportunities to take stock and to celebrate, hopefully they will remind us of all we have yet to achieve while also providing inspiration for the journey ahead.

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