As families deal with coronavirus, new federal dollars should follow the student
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If you’re a parent, this fall has been stressful as tens of millions of students remain at home, you face rolling school closures due to coronavirus outbreaks, and you’re getting mixed messages from local, state and federal government officials. Maybe your kids are home but learning remotely as you balance working from home. Or maybe you’re among the estimated 8 million new parents trying to homeschool, or joining a homeschool co-op, learning pod, or micro-school. Regardless of where or how your child is receiving his or her education, you’re probably feeling stressed, and that’s all right. You’re not alone.

This is why the debate in Washington, D.C. has been so mind boggling. As every parent takes a bigger and bigger role in ensuring their children receive a quality education, the debate has been focused on buildings, systems, and institutions, and not about what families and students need.

Right now, we don’t know whether the president and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo On The Money: Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi bullish, Trump tempers optimism | Analysis: Nearly 1M have run out of jobless benefits Overnight Health Care: CDC expands definition of 'close contact' after COVID-19 report | GOP coronavirus bill blocked in Senate | OxyContin maker agrees to B settlement with Trump administration MORE (D-Calif.) will be able to break the deadlock over coronavirus relief. But if Congress does provide additional funding for K-12 education, the current debate is entirely focused on spending hundeds of billions of dollars to fund school systems, rather than fund what matters most in education: our kids.

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We all know how important it is for our children to get the education that best fits their needs. To thrive in a changing world, parents want their kids to learn, to discover their talents and interests, and to build a love of learning that will serve them for a lifetime. For tens of millions, that learning won’t happen in a school classroom anytime soon. The unpredictability around schooling means it’s time to put tools in the hands of families so they can adapt to whatever circumstances arise.

When America began to realize the extent of the challenge posed by coronavirus, it seemed that maybe “spring break 2020” would simply be extended through the summer, a disruption that families faced with few complaints at a time of uncertainty and crisis. But now, Americans are living through a phenomenon that no one living in this nation has ever encountered, at least not in recent history: Tens of thousands of schools will be closed partially or for the entirety of the fall semester. That’s a change from even just a few weeks ago, as major school systems across the country have made late shifts to purely distance learning.

These changes are frustrating and challenging for students and families, and they make it even harder to ensure kids get the best education. And the reality is, there’s no way to know when schools will be considered safe to reopen. Hopefully in-person learning will resume in a matter of weeks; but it may be later this year, or possibly early in 2021, or perhaps sometime after that. Additionally, parents are keenly aware that whatever the learning arrangements are today, they could change without warning at any time.

Parents and guardians face the extraordinary challenge of working to ensure their children continue to learn, while simultaneously doing their own jobs and earning a living, whether in an office or at home. Many parents are unable return to work because they’ve been thrust into the role of full-time childcare provider and at-home teacher. Many more are struggling to balance work while trying to implement an effective at-home learning program for multiple children. Others face the crisis of a lost job or shuttered business.

Earlier this year, Congress and the president came together on the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. That bipartisan legislation includes $30.75 billion for the Education Stabilization Fund, which provides grants to states with the highest coronavirus burden. Public school advocates are calling for hundreds of billions in additional assistance.

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But here lies the disconnect. At a time when traditional public schools have largely failed to adapt to disruption caused by the pandemic, policymakers want to double down on an approach that will inevitably leave millions of parents unhappy with the solutions that traditional systems can offer. Meanwhile parents have already started to find alternative ways of delivering education to their children, because they know that even with greater resources poured into the existing systems, those will still be unable to offer their kids an educational experience that meets their needs. As evidence of this, every day, more families withdraw their kids from their existing schools, and enroll in a homeschooling co-op, or micro-school, or simply opt for homsechooling. Every day millions of families are taking on a bigger role in their child’s education — and they’re sacrificing their own time and money to do it. It’s their taxpayer dollars that pay for the public education system, and it’s their children who are supposed to benefit from it. Where’s the help for those families when schools aren’t providing that service?

The point of the public school system isn’t the buildings and the employees. It’s the students. And the focus of our policy must be on the policies that best address the needs of those students. That won’t be achieved by pouring billions more into a system that’s inflexible and inefficient even under the best of circumstances. It will come by a more resilient and student-centered education system. Families have already paid for the ability to access public education. Any new funding should be provided directly to families to help cover the schooling, courses, devices, and other forms of learning that have been left to parents to pay for. This funding will reflect the sacrifices being made by families, and it will provide real and immediate learning opportunities for children.

Matt Frendewey leads communications at yes. every kid. and previously served as a senior advisor to the Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education.