August 26, 2021
The COVID-19 Constituency is a project developed by The Hunt Institute, in collaboration with Governor Bob Wise, former governor of West Virginia. The project seeks to collect firsthand experiences, perceptions, and priorities of students, parents, and teachers to translate them into actionable policies that will fundamentally change education for the better. This blog series will offer space to share out and amplify the desires of the COVID-19 Constituency and provide resources that will help inform policymakers as they work to transform education, while allowing opportunity for others to contribute information and partner in this important work.
In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic suddenly brought the world to its knees. Typical American life changed drastically nearly overnight—schools and businesses shut their doors, unemployment skyrocketed, and the health and well-being of all Americans was potentially in jeopardy. By virtue of such startling changes, the coronavirus pandemic spotlighted the importance of many systems in the United States, specifically the education system. Over the tumultuous course of the past 18 months, homebound students, parents, teachers, and policymakers alike have seen the value of what happens behind school doors—from providing nutritious meals to children in low-income schools to developing students’ academic and social skills via teacher instruction and peer-to-peer interaction.
The pandemic also shed light on some longstanding systemic challenges that consistently plague students and communities across the country. As school instruction transitioned from in-person to virtual, the digital divide became one glaring example of the inequities that exist in education, even within neighboring communities. Many families did not have adequate access to technology, like laptops, Wi-Fi, or basic broadband connectivity for students to be able to learn from home. Although this challenge was not new to many, the remote learning shift made it clear that this issue must be addressed once and for all. This is just one of many education challenges that schools, policymakers, and now the public have had to navigate for the past several months without much guidance on how to do so.
In the work we have done throughout the pandemic, we can see Americans’ feelings toward issues in education becoming more pronounced. Many are now more sensitive to the shortcomings of our education system in comparison to pre-COVID times. According to Gallup, only one in three Americans (32 percent) had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the public school system in 2021, a nine-point drop from January 2020. Furthermore, negative perceptions about the current state of public schools are consistent across party lines – only 35 and 37 percent of Republicans and Democrats, respectively, were satisfied with the quality of public education in the country. Additionally, a poll conducted in September 2020 by FIL Inc. found that three in four parents (76 percent) believe today’s education system is a major problem or in crisis.
Aligning with these concerns, overall political will for education reform is strong, serving as a compelling case for policymakers to address public education issues. A survey conducted in the midst of the pandemic prior to the 2020 elections by Education Champions found that nearly seven in ten (69 percent) voters were more likely to vote for a Senate candidate who prioritizes education and has a clear education agenda. Additionally, 71 percent of Americans believed it is important for Congress and the president to make education a top national priority, and 15 percent state they would get involved with an organization working to elevate education. Lake Research Partners found that 59 percent of voters think public school funding should be increased. We must use this momentum to make tangible change.
The extended and searing ordeal of millions of American families has formed a COVID-19 Constituency. Based on 18 months of shared struggling with virtual learning, child care, and access to necessary services, this group desires real educational change for all students. It is imperative that federal, state, and local policymakers listen to and take seriously the concerns and resolve of this rapidly growing movement. Voices of families and voters need to be heard and should drive change as the education system rebuilds after another arduous year.
Together, we have a collective 50 years of experience making change in politics and education and are committed to helping policymakers at all levels address problems and develop innovative solutions. Over the coming months, we are partnering together to provide opportunities to weigh in on the needed changes in education and resources to promote education transformation. We hope you will join us in these efforts. If you are interested in learning more about the COVID-19 Constituency work, please contact us here.