We as state leaders have faced challenging questions in the past few months as we work to protect the health and safety of our citizens. This is particularly true when it comes to the already unique challenges of educating and supporting students. Should we close schools for the remainder of the school year? How can we ensure students that receive free or reduced-priced lunches still have access to nutritious food? How do we ensure that the learning process continues in homes with widely varied access to the internet and necessary technology? What supports can we give daily to teachers and parents, who are dealing with an entirely new educational reality?
These questions have each called for immediate, emergency actions to ensure as much continuity of educational supports and services as possible in our states. Timelines have been accelerated, plans have been rewritten and emergency rules have been implemented. It is incredibly difficult work, and, as the chair of Education Commission of the States, I want to thank all state leaders who have been making these and other hard decisions in order to protect and support their communities.
As we look forward to the months ahead and to our work to rebuild and revitalize our education systems, I urge my colleagues to be not only innovative and enterprising, but also thoughtful and intentionally inclusive in our policymaking strategies. At the pace of current decision-making, those students and populations who tend to fall through the cracks in our education systems are even more vulnerable to being overlooked. It’s easy to make decisions based on fear and anxiety, or to champion solutions that play well on the evening news. It’s much more difficult to ensure that our ad hoc decisions, however well-intentioned, result in the uniform, adequate and equitable education for which we all strive.
By using all data and information available to us, as well as insights and best practices from our peers across the states, we can make better decisions that reduce the potential for negative impacts in our communities. This is the power of learning from experience on which Education Commission of the States was founded more than 50 years ago.
In Pennsylvania, before announcing any statewide school closures, I worked with state and local partners to ensure all continuity-of-education plans were in place in school districts before the closures took effect. I also signed S.B. 751, which provides much-needed flexibility and relief for our education community by waiving the requirement for schools to be in session at least 180 days, ensuring school employees are paid during the closure and authorizing the state secretary of education to waive student teacher and standardized assessments. Allowing for this kind of flexibility helped address the urgent needs across Pennsylvania, while also keeping an eye on the future of our education system and equitable learning opportunities for all.
I urge my colleagues to continue to use Education Commission of the States as a source of unbiased information about state and local responses to COVID-19, as well as any other policy area you may be considering. They’re working to provide nonpartisan counsel to help in navigating the new challenges and opportunities ahead. Education Commission of the States’ Policy Team continues to research, produce and release valuable reports and 50-State Comparisons during this time; and, as always, they’re very happy to provide opportunities for you to connect with your peers in other states and jurisdictions, who are experiencing many of the same challenges that you are experiencing. In uncertain times like these, it is more critical than ever that we all take a measured approach to policymaking and that we all take the time to learn from one another as well. Thank you for all that you do.