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CEO Statement on The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021

The following is a statement from ACT's CEO Janet Godwin:

As more and more Americans receive COVID-19 vaccinations and we continue to assess the toll of the pandemic on all aspects of our lives, now is the time to look toward healing and recovery. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 starts us on a path to recovering from a multitude of stressors – economic, physical, and emotional – and provides necessary financial support to K-12 students and parents, teachers, school counselors, districts, and postsecondary students and institutions who desperately need it. This critical legislation provides a needed “shot in the arm” to help ensure that our schools and colleges are open and safe, that all of our students and educators can engage and participate in the full breadth of teaching and learning experience, and to address the myriad issues wrought from the pandemic over the past year. The plan also makes meaningful progress toward some of the priorities that ACT outlined for the Biden Administration in December 2020 and addresses numerous educational challenges that we must meet as a nation in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Equity and Learning Loss

In particular, we appreciate the emphasis the plan places on addressing learning loss, with a keen eye to supporting those who are at greatest risk—students of color, those from low income families, first-generation students, students with disabilities, and most notably, the specific provisions set aside for the Secretary of Education to provide services and assistance to homeless youth. Its emphasis on serving those who are traditionally underserved is a critical element in addressing the disproportionate disruptions to learning felt by some of our most vulnerable populations, and it is consistent with ACT’s ongoing commitment to ensuring educational equity.  This focus is key to addressing the long-term effects of the disruption in schooling in 2020 and 2021, as students continue to prepare academically and otherwise for college and work after high school graduation.

Supporting Educators’ and Students’ Mental Health

The pandemic has placed undue stress on the mental health of our educators at a time when they are doing a herculean job for our students, who are also struggling to process these unprecedented times. The plan’s emphasis on providing supports to address student and educator mental, social, and emotional health issues is essential as we move toward healing and supporting our schools through this process. The disruption to in-person learning has substantially and negatively affected students’ well-being, so giving schools the tools to meet the needs of the whole learner – including mental health and social and emotional learning supports – is a meaningful way to ensure that students are equipped with the skills they need to realize their full potential.

Infrastructure, Safety, and Facilities

As schools move toward safely reopening, ensuring that students, educators, and school staff are healthy and protected is paramount. This legislation recognizes that, in many cases, school buildings simply aren’t equipped to address the modifications required by the pandemic, and adjustments to the physical space are needed to guarantee the safety of school communities. Providing additional resources to improve school facilities (e.g., ventilation improvements, PPE, and social distancing) in order to create safer schools for students and educators is an effort we recognize and applaud. Further, as schools adjust to the new reality of blended learning and increased need for connectivity and reliable devices, we appreciate the plan’s support for expansion of broadband access and infrastructure as a means to reduce inequities in access to virtual learning now, and homework inequities in the future.

Implications for State Leaders

In addition to addressing the most immediate needs of school safety and acute learning loss, The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 provides state leaders an opportunity to build a stronger and more equitable foundation—one that levels the playing field and improves educational and post-high school outcomes for all students. 

Among the immediate need to determine, address and close learning gaps caused by the pandemic, The American Rescue Plan Act provides state leaders the opportunity to set a course for improving the education in this country for the long term by:

  • ensuring that students’ education is holistic and addresses the needs of the “whole learner”;
  • scaling up nonacademic services, especially for students who have the greatest needs, including students of color, and those from low-income families;
  • bridging the digital divide by improving broadband and non-phone device access; and
  • providing multiple pathways to success for all students.

In a year that has held immeasurable loss, we are beginning to see rays of hope. The recovery provided for in this plan begins the long road to wholeness for students and their families, educators, and communities. It is now up to us to seize the opportunities provided for in the legislation and help students and all those affected by the pandemic stabilize, improve, and excel so that every American can achieve education and workplace success.