WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Education recently released its inaugural equity action plan as part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s continued commitment to advancing racial equity and support for underserved communities through the federal government. This plan aligns with President Biden’s executive order, Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona underscored its priorities earlier this year when he laid out his vision for education in America. The Department’s equity action plan builds on current processes already in place and implements new strategies to ensure the advancement of equity as it works to promote student achievement and ensure the nation’s education system meets the demands of today’s global economy.
“Education has the power to bring the American Dream within reach of every individual, lift communities, draw people together, drive our economy, and meet our nation’s vast potential,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “We need to keep the focus on transforming our education system so it truly expands opportunity for all students, no matter their race, background, zip code, age, or family’s income. Together, we must take bold action to ensure our nation’s schools are defined not by disparities, but by equity and excellence, especially as we recover from the pandemic and reemerge stronger than before.”
To deal with both ongoing recovery efforts from the pandemic and begin to remedy long-standing disparities that underserved students and communities face in achieving equal education opportunities, the Department also announced a series of plans to incorporate equity throughout its operations and mission to meet the needs of every learner. These additional efforts by the Department include:
- Prioritizing access to and completion of an education beyond high school. Postsecondary attainment continues to be inequitably available for traditionally underserved populations as accessibility, affordability, and equitable funding across institutions remain barriers to earning a postsecondary degree or certificate. To improve access and affordability, the Department will review and improve its model used to verify financial aid applicants. The Department also intends to undertake a comprehensive approach to provide for equitable funding by: investing in Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities,and minority-serving institutions such as Hispanic-Serving Institutions, Predominantly Black Institutions, and Asian American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions, community colleges, and other under-resourced public institutions; supporting institutions, systems, and states to raise completion rates for underserved students; and sponsoring a new vision of college excellence that makes inclusivity a marker of prestige.
- Ensuring equitable impact of American Rescue Plan’s $130 billion in funding for K-12 students. Certain student groups have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, including but not limited to students from low-income backgrounds, students with disabilities, multilingual learners, students experiencing homelessness, and migratory students. The Department is committed to the American Rescue Plan’s (ARP) intended purpose of helping schools and communities recover from the pandemic. The Department will also continue to support State Educational Agencies (SEA) and Local Educational Entities (LEA) in meeting and enforcing the requirements of the ARPElementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund’s first of its kind Maintenance of Equity requirement, which ensures that SEAs and LEAs do not disproportionately reduce per-pupil funding to districts and schools and that SEAs do not cut funding at all for the highest poverty districts.
- Investing in resources to help advance civil rights. Advancing equity rests on the presumption of equal opportunities and protection under the law. The Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) made the historic decision to collect data from the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years, marking the first time OCR has conducted civil rights data collection from all public schools two school years in a row instead of every other year. The additional collection will allow the Department to identify inequities in educational opportunities as the country continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on students’ academic, social, and emotional development.
- Advancing equity in contracting and procurement. Minority-owned small businesses receive about 20 percent of total agency procurement actions, but they receive significantly fewer overall dollars. In response, the Department is identifying opportunities to award higher dollar actions to minority-owned small businesses, consistent with the authorizing statute and regulations governing minority-owned small business contract awards. Additionally, the Department will work with its Senior Executive Service (SES) to ensure executive performance plans address progress towards our achievement of the small business contracting goals.
- Advancing equity in grant process strategies. The Department pursues its mission by funding programs that will improve access to high-quality educational opportunities and programs that pursue innovations in teaching and learning with a focus on underserved students. Each year the Department convenes panels of external education professionals and practitioners to serve as peer reviewers. To advance equity in the grants process, the Department will expand its outreach efforts to attract the broadest possible pool of reviewers.
These actions build on work the Department has initiated throughout the first year of the Biden-Harris Administration to deliver on equity and racial justice. Some components already put forth by the Department include:
- Supporting America’s education system through the COVID-19 pandemic. The Department distributed unprecedented resources to states, districts, K-12 schools, and postsecondary institutions, including funding, guidance, and technical assistance to help educators meet the needs of all students, especially those disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
- Supporting Schools with High-Poverty Rates to Address Opportunity and Achievement Gaps. Title I helps schools provide students in low-income communities the learning opportunities and supports they need to succeed, and addresses long-standing funding disparities between under-resourced schools – which disproportionately serve students of color – and their wealthier counterparts. The Department continues to administer these funds that serve 25 million students in nearly 90 percent of school districts across the nation. President Biden’s FY23 budget proposal calls for $36.5 billion for Title I, more than doubling the program’s funding compared to the 2021 enacted level. Within the requested Title I funding, it would provide resources for SEAs to voluntarily establish commissions to identify and create plans to address inequities in their education funding systems and gaps in access to educational opportunity, and funding for similar reviews at the district level.
- Investing in Educator Recruitment and Retention. As states, districts, and schools are working hard to address the impact of COVID-19 on students’ social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs, many of them are facing significant challenges in attracting and retaining teachers. Research shows that existing educator shortages disproportionately impact students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, students with disabilities, and, often, rural communities. The Department continues to take action to support and invest in the teaching profession and address the teacher shortage many schools and districts across the country face.
- Supporting higher education with pandemic relief funding. The Department distributed $40 billion through the American Rescue Plan to more than 5,000 colleges and universities to help students access a high-quality education and the academic, emotional, and financial supports needed to thrive and safely return to on-campus, in-person instruction and activities. ARP provided more than $16 billion to our nation’s HBCUs, Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities and minority-serving institutions.
- Advancing equity through Title IX. The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights launched a comprehensive review of its existing regulations and other actions related to Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in education programs and activities that receive federal funding.
- Supporting learners with disabilities. The Department invested more than $3 billion in ARP funds to support children with disabilities who were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and its disruptions to in-person learning.
- Supporting student loan borrowers. The Department has redoubled its efforts to support student loan borrowers, many of whom have struggled with unemployment, reduced work hours, and other financial stressors brought on by the pandemic. The Department’s initial efforts to provide targeted loan relief have already led to the approval of $17 billion in student loan cancellation for more than 700,000 borrowers, including $1.5 billion to borrowers who have been taken advantage of by their institutions, $7.8 billion for over 400,000 borrowers who have a total and permanent disability, and $1.26 billion to over 100,000 borrowers who attended the now-defunct ITT Technical Institute. In October 2021, the Department also revamped the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which allows borrowers to study for and work in jobs that may be lower-paying without being overly burdened by student loan debt, announcing changes to the program to allow borrowers to receive credit for past periods of repayment on loans that may not otherwise qualify for PSLF.
- Focusing on equity as a priority of the administration. The Secretary’s Supplemental Priorities, which became effective on January 10, 2022, contain six priorities of the administration, with the second priority focusing on Promoting Equity in Student Access to Educational Resources and Opportunities. The priority enables program offices within the Department to focus strategic plans, competitions and projects in ways that promote educational equity and adequacy in resources and opportunity for underserved students.
The detailed action plan can be found here.
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