Virus Outbreak-Distance Learning

In this Thursday, May 7, 2020, photo, Azandria Torbert, stands in line for graduation information at Chattahoochee County High School after the school district called an early end to the school year in Cusseta, Ga.

(The Center Square) – Two Georgia organizations are among a group of think tanks calling on Congress to expand access to education amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Free market nonprofits Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) and Georgia Public Policy Foundation and 16 other think tanks have sent a letter to congressional leaders asking to consider offering support to families, private schools and teachers and to improve internet access.

“The undersigned member think tanks across the country firmly believe that the role of government should be limited; however, in extraordinary times such as these, we also recognize that Congress would like to provide thoughtful assistance to ensure that every child receives the greatest possible continued access to a quality education,” the group wrote in the May 20 letter.

The letter was sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

The organizations requested U.S. lawmakers expand the use of education savings accounts or create smaller grants for parents to use over the summer for tutoring and other educational resources. They also asked Congress to provide a federal tax credit to nontraditional schools and to low-income parents who send their children to private schools.

“While the lion’s share of support will go to Georgia’s 1.7 million students enrolled in traditional public schools, we can’t afford to neglect the over 315,000 students attending public charter, private, and home schools,” said Buzz Brockway, GCO’s vice president of public policy.

Schools in Georgia closed in mid-March to limit the spread of COVID-19, turning parents into hybrid teachers as they monitor remote classes.

Georgia education leaders still are considering plans for reopening school in the fall. Gov. Brian Kemp on Thursday signed an executive order authorizing summer school programs. However, uncertainty remains as health officials continue to warn about the possibility of a second wave of the coronavirus.

The group of think tanks asked Congress to allow states to use new K-12 allocations to offer scholarships to parents who want to continue to home-school because of COVID-19 concerns. They also recommended U.S. lawmakers address the lack of internet access in their next round of coronavirus stimulus aid. The Georgia Department of Education received $40 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to address broadband issues, usually prevalent in rural areas.

“Nearly 12 million children live in homes without broadband access,” they wrote. “When considering the expected duration of the coronavirus crisis and the impact of the 2020-2021 school year, it is clear that digital learning is likely going to be a part of education for the foreseeable future.”

The organizations also asked Congress to provide stipends for teachers to develop their distance teaching skills.

Georgia districts will receive their share of more than $400 million set aside in the CARES Act through the Education Stabilization Fund Program Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. The money can be used to cover coronavirus-related expenses dating back to March 13 through September 2022.

Staff Reporter

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for three years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.