June 27, 2020
As COVID-19 disrupts just about all aspects of life, state leaders are working tirelessly to take on the challenges brought about in their states as a result. In the second installment of A Conversation with Lieutenant Governors, The Hunt Institute spoke with Delaware Lieutenant Governor Bethany Hall-Long and Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser about the work being done by state leadership in Delaware and Louisiana to tackle the greatest challenges, particularly in the education continuum, resulting from the pandemic.
“We are letting the science and numbers guide us on how we will move forward. Our working group is looking at academic services, health/wellness, and equity. We are also looking at professional development opportunities, figuring out what teachers need.”
-Delaware Lt. Governor Bethany Hall-Long
State-level pandemic response, regardless of the size of the state, requires a commitment to engaging stakeholders and communities where they are to develop an informed approach. Lt. Governor Hall-Long co-chairs the Delaware Pandemic Resurgence Advisory Committee, a cross-sector working group created by Governor John Carney to support health, business, and equity in preparation for a potential resurgence of COVID-19. By engaging with cross-sector stakeholders, this committee is positioned to develop a multifaceted response to these critical issues as the pandemic continues. With an eye toward reopening schools for the 2020-21 school year, Governor Carney and Delaware Secretary of Education Susan Bunting established three school reopening working committee groups led by educators, nurses, and health officials. Each will address a major issue facing Delaware in its efforts to reopen schools in the fall including logistics and operations, health and wellness, and academics and equity.
COVID-19‘s impact on education goes far beyond school closures. Due to the economic fallout of the pandemic, states are facing the possibility of budget shortfalls resulting from a lack of revenue. This will trickle down to school finance across the education continuum. In Louisiana, the tourism industry, a major source of state income, has been devastated by the decrease in visitors over the past few months. In his role, Lt. Governor Nungesser oversees the state’s tourism industry and is working strategically to draw visitors while still ensuring the safety of both tourists and Louisianans. The state budgetary challenges will likely have the most significant impact on the state’s 12 colleges, especially if the pandemic stalls revenues from college football.
In her role presiding over the Delaware State Senate, Lt. Governor Hall-Long has been working with legislators to develop and pass a budget with no cuts to education, no job losses or pay cuts for educators, and the requisite funding for school construction projects passed by state referendum. While Delaware is not exempt from the economic hardships related to the pandemic, the state has committed itself to prioritizing the needs of its students.
Ensuring the health and safety of students and staff alike will be a critical element in any decision to return to in-person learning in the fall. In Delaware, state leaders are leaning on science and the expertise of epidemiologists and other medical experts to support decisions related to reopening schools. Our nation’s current challenges afford unprecedented opportunities for innovation, and education leaders are preparing multiple approaches, including returning with varying levels of restrictions.
Lt. Governor Hall-Long also stressed the importance of COVID-19 data for schools and districts as they plan for any return to in-person learning. To put these data into the hands of community stakeholders, a number of states, including both Delaware and Louisiana, have created a dashboard with myriad data points including cases and deaths disaggregated by race and ethnicity. Using real time data to monitor its spread and employing contact tracing allows for more informed decision-making, and thus safer environments for students.
While discussing the issue of student health, Lt. Governor Hall-Long raised the concern that student health considerations are not solely related to preventing the spread of coronavirus. The decrease in child abuse reporting nationwide is troubling, as students may be forced to remain at home with abusers for the duration of the pandemic. Additionally, the trauma resulting from family members losing jobs, becoming sick, or even dying as a result of COVID-19 poses a significant threat to students’ wellbeing. Delaware officials are thinking critically to ensure the mental and physical health of students remains the focus, and the state is working to expand telehealth opportunities for students in communities impacted most by COVID-19. States will be challenged to manage the logistical aspects of preserving both the mental and physical health of students, but common sense and science should rule the day.
One of the biggest challenges Lt. Governor Nungesser has seen in Louisiana is ensuring that masks and other social distancing guidance are followed by the general public. State officials are continuing to model proper use of these guidelines, but the state has also sought to approach the issue more creatively. To promote the importance of wearing masks and social distancing, Louisiana has enlisted the help of two young celebrities from Louisiana, Laine Hardy and Lauren Daigle, in a public campaign to encourage young people to follow state department of health recommendations. Returning to in-person instruction in the fall will depend on the public commitment to these measures.
Schools nationwide transitioned to remote learning as a result of closures in the spring of 2020 with mixed results. School districts with financial and human capital, resources, and e-learning platforms were able to adjust relatively well to distance learning and will continue to do so in the fall. However, many districts in Delaware and Louisiana, particularly in rural areas, lack the broadband infrastructure and personal electronic devices to access online material necessary to engage in meaningful remote learning. In Louisiana, Lt. Governor Nungesser shared that the Louisiana Department of Culture Recreation and Tourism has given $1 million to local libraries to help students access the internet, but states must continue to think creatively about how to expand broadband access in students’ homes. Since the outset of the pandemic, Louisianans, particularly those in rural communities, have been using Homework LA, a state-sponsored website and app where students can find free online tutoring, test preparation, and job assistance resources.
Schools and districts serve a wide range of communities with varying assets and needs, as well as varying severities of COVID-19 outbreaks. With that in mind, Louisiana and Delaware are both empowering school districts to be flexible in creating their own plans for reopening, under the guidance of the governors’ reopening plans. By allowing schools to leverage their own strengths and seeking to fill in the gaps where they need support, these states are prioritizing a response that seeks to guarantee a safe and equitable return to learning, but is nimble enough to meet the needs of most students.
View the full webinar below.