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Legislative Watch: New School Year Is a Tough Assignment

Public schools face a litany of problems relating to COVID-19 that include significant drops in funding, distribution issues for school lunch programs, lack of broadband access and bus driver protection.

During the 2008 recession, 120,000 teachers lost their jobs, and schools have yet to replace all of them. A recent study from the Learning Policy Institute estimated that the losses could be twice as great, as a result of COVID-19, if education budgets are cut by even 15 percent. 

The prospect of fewer teachers complicates planning for social distancing, smaller class sizes, distance learning and the extra work it will take to catch up students who have fallen behind. More than 100 bills related to schools have been introduced in May, touching on topics from funding to accessing unsold produce for lunch programs. Some examples:

SR21 in Louisiana asks the Board of Regents and postsecondary education management boards to recognize the unusual circumstances of the current class of high school graduates and to adopt a “flexible and holistic” admissions policy for summer and fall 2020 semesters. It notes factors such as ACT and SAT test scores being unavailable, pass/fail grading systems adopted during the pandemic that affect GPAs and the fact that emergency adoption of online instruction has had “varying degrees of success.”

AB4149 in New Jersey appropriates $1 million for the Department of Agriculture to purchase food products from farmers in the state who are unable to sell their goods due to disruptions in markets and the food chain. The food will be distributed to free and reduced-price school breakfast and lunch programs.

S8319 in New York would establish a recovery program under which businesses and municipalities could receive monthly grants for income or revenue loss during the coronavirus outbreak. School districts are included in the entities allowed to receive the grants, which cannot exceed $1 million per month.

Ohio HB615 authorizes owners of school buses to install a protective barrier around the bus operator’s seat to reduce exposure to infectious diseases. The director of public safety is to adopt and enforce rules for construction, design and installation of the barriers.

Educators are concerned that rural and low-income students who lack high-speed Internet access will suffer setbacks if schools find it necessary to rely on distance learning. In North Carolina, H1071 appropriates nearly $30 million for the state’s School Connectivity Initiative in order to maximize eligibility for federal funds.

SF4600, a Minnesota bill, authorizes the sale of $10 million in bonds to fund grants from the state’s Safe Routes to School Program. Grants support efforts to reduce traffic and air quality near schools, including planning, infrastructure such as sidewalks and trails and bike fleets.


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Carl Smith is a senior staff writer for Governing and covers a broad range of issues affecting states and localities. He can be reached at or on Twitter at @governingwriter.
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