Secretary Riley’s Education Policy Proposal for the Biden Administration

Dick Riley, former U.S. Secretary of Education and former governor of South Carolina, has outlined his recommendations for expanding learning opportunities and technology access to children in the face of COVID-19. Those recommendations have been submitted to the education transition team for President-elect Joe Biden and can be read below.

Ignite A Powerful Antidote to the Massive Learning and Job Losses from COVID-19

Create Community Learning and Tech Hubs in School Neighborhoods across America

To Help Children and Families Catch Up and Keep Up with Learning and Technology

Expanding educational and tech opportunities for school-age children has never been more critical to the success of young people and working families, especially now in communities hit so hard by COVID-19. To counteract the coronavirus’s many negative and long-lasting impacts on learning and jobs, it is critical to make more opportunities available for engaged learning — with safe, age-appropriate adult supervision — during out-of-school times, especially for children and youth ages 5-14. In addition to quality child care and early education and development, this would provide much-needed support for enhanced K-12 learning, as well as enable working parents to pursue their employment in order to provide for their families and contribute to our economy.

To dramatically expand such learning opportunities, Community Learning and Tech Hubs should be created in interested school communities across America. According to Afterschool Alliance surveys, approximately 19.4 million school-age children not currently in an afterschool program would be enrolled if one were available to them.

A new federal investment of $10 billion annually would support 40,000 schools and/or their community organizations, working together, to become Community Learning and Tech Hubs. This would cover about half of the school communities in America. Benefits would include the following:

  1. Mitigate learning losses due to the pandemic through expanded academic enhancement opportunities for elementary-middle students before and after school, during summers, in and out of school buildings, in person and virtually by fully leveraging community and school resources and expertise;
  2. Help close the digital divide and lack of technology access for students and families;
  3. Provide engaged learning with adult supervision during out-of-school time so parents can work or upgrade their skills, as well as support elementary and middle school children’s social, emotional and physical health and development;
  4. Inspire students to learn science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills and the creative arts (STEAM) through coding, robotics, and arts-integrated science experiences (opportunities that will get short shrift in schools due to budget cuts) to strengthen the talent pipeline for ever-growing careers in the tech industry;
  5. Engage middle and high school students in career and college pathway opportunities, service learning and entrepreneurship projects to discover and mobilize their talents.

To get this initiative up and running quickly, with accountability, the early forerunner of this approach — the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers program — could be amended to include the expanded roles and partnerships described above. The program would continue to be administered by the states, and the current federal appropriation of $1.2 billion would be increased to $10 billion to establish 40,000 sites across the country.

This federal investment may seem large to some (although it’s not, compared to airline bailouts, etc.).  But it is a quick and effective approach, with a successful infrastructure already intact, to gain a positive impact on millions of children, youth, working parents and all families in 40,000 school communities across America. Such programs would enable students to catch up, keep up and get ahead during and after COVID-19, as well as provide much-needed support for our millions of working parents and other families.

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