To Whom it May Concern,
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Secretary’s priorities for discretionary grant programs. I am writing on behalf of Student Voice, a completely youth-led nonprofit organization. We advocate for policies and practices at the national level that advance equity for marginalized students in the education system. Our narrative based approach centers students’ lived experiences and prioritizes equity.
I would like to highlight our understanding of student experiences regarding Secretary’s priorities for discretionary grant programs:
Proposed Priority 1—Addressing the Impact of COVID-19 on Students, Educators, and Faculty.
The U.S. education system has changed rapidly because of COVID-19, and historically marginalized communities have been disproportionately impacted by inequitable resources and budget cuts because of existing inequities. A just response to COVID-19 must prioritize comprehensive support for marginalized students, which means that students, especially those who are members of marginalized communities, must be partners in the decision-making process at every level as reopenings occur.
Engaging students in priority 1(a) is especially important in addressing the impact of COVID-19 on students. Authentically engaging impacted youth in asset-mapping and needs assessment can provide invaluable insight in deciding how to use resources to address a community’s most pressing needs, many of which may fall under priorities 1(b) through 1(h). Students who have been most impacted by inequities magnified by COVID-19 should be included in deciding how to:
1(b) meet basic fundamental health and safety needs of students and teachers;
1(c) address student social-emotional and academic needs;
1(d) ensure teacher and staff well-being;
1(e) expand access to technology and internet;
1(f) use evidence based practices to extend student learning time;
1(g) accelerate student learning time to avoid remedial courses; and
1(h) reach students who may have lost touch with the education system during the pandemic.
Proposed Priority 2—Promoting Equity in Student Access to Educational Resources, Opportunities, and Welcoming Environments
Systemic educational inequities manifest in the quality of students' lived experiences in school. As outlined in priority 2(b), students must have access to a culturally resonate curriculum and should be given the opportunity to demonstrate understanding of material through growth-based methods. A commitment to expanding learning environments and accommodating all students is essential to learner success across communities. Evaluation systems should measure how well schools are closing opportunity gaps instead of outputs that are often related to the availability of resources. Because students who are most impacted by inequities often go to school with fewer resources, discretionary grantees aiming to promote equity should be prioritized by demonstrated need.
Proposed Priority 3—Supporting a Diverse Educator Workforce and Professional Growth to Strengthen Student Learning.
Teacher workforces should be representative of the diversity of their students and receive professional development that enables them to foster equity in education, as priority 3(a) details. In particular, priority 3(f) that emphasizes the support of teachers is critical. Especially during a time of unprecedented economic uncertainty, school staff must receive salaries that align with their cost of living. For the educational system to retain effective educators, teachers must have a voice in decisions about how the educational system is moving forward at the school, district and state levels.
Proposed Priority 4— Meeting Student Social, Emotional, and Academic Needs.
Whether online or in-person, schools should prioritize safe school environments, social-emotional learning and access to mental health supports. Schools should support the whole child and invest in trauma-informed teaching, counselors and social workers, as described in priority 4(a-c). All students have the right to learn in an environment that communicates mentally, physically, and emotionally safety. Priority 4(d) outlines practices to cultivate learning environments for all students. Student-defined measures, like perceived school climate, sense of community and safety, overall relevance in curriculum, and more, are critical to understanding the full picture of inequities that marginalized students face.
Proposed Priority 5—Increasing Postsecondary Education Access, Affordability, Completion, and Post-Enrollment Success.
All students have the right to an affordable and equitable education. Access to resources that will create pathways for students to explore postsecondary options are vital, particularly in such times of uncertainty. Schools should seek to provide robust opportunities for knowledge transfer and personalized assistance about the postsecondary process to students, as detailed in priorities 5(f-l).
Proposed Priority 6—Strengthening Cross-Agency Coordination and Community Engagement to Advance Systemic Change.
For schools to be just social institutions, they must be bolstered by robust social infrastructures in their surrounding communities. Student Voice supports a more integrated approach for schools to prioritize comprehensive supports for students, engage parents and families and respond to local needs and strengths for enriched learning possibilities, particularly as defined by priorities 6(b-d). Community schools offer a strategy for how schools can prioritize comprehensive supports for students, engage parents and families and respond to local needs and strengths for enriched learning possibilities.
In summary, the proposed priorities will reflect the environment students want to learn in.
The by-students, for-students nonprofit.
About Student Voice
Student Voice is a by-students, for-students 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that works in all 50 states to equip students as storytellers, organizers and institutional partners who advocate for student-driven solutions to educational inequity. Through direct civic action, Student Voice helps students hold their schools and surrounding communities accountable to the Student Bill of Rights and prepares them to become lifelong agents of social and political change. For more information about Student Voice, visit our website at StuVoice.org and follow @Stu_Voice and #StuVoice on social media.