FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 31, 2021
New Report Reveals Detrimental Impact of Coronavirus Pandemic on Texas Schoolchildren
Uneven Access to Remote Learning, Status Quo School Policing, Persistent Exclusionary Discipline, and Economic Hardship Left Millions of Young Texans Behind in a Year of Mass Suffering
AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Appleseed released a new report today, Education Transformed: The K-12 Experience in Texas During the Coronavirus Pandemic, that examines the extraordinary adverse impact of the past year on schoolchildren across Texas. Using publicly available data and reports, information gathered from public information requests to the Texas Education Agency and school districts, and anecdotes from directly impacted people across Texas, Education Transformed illustrates how multiple crises converged to detrimentally burden millions of children and their families.
The report first analyzes how the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic caused students to experience great uncertainty in their communities and schools. The report refers to data analyses from the U.S. Census Bureau to illustrate how many young Texans feared loss of housing, lacked food and other necessities at myriad points over the past year.
“The reality that struggling, working students faced over the past year yielded difficulty in maintaining adequate sustenance for themselves and their families,” said Andrew Hairston, Director of the Education Justice Project at Texas Appleseed.
According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, an estimated 1.3 million families across Texas suffered from food insecurity in January 2021. This snapshot of the past year illustrates how families could barely meet their basic needs during this global health crisis.
Ahead of the passage of the American Rescue Plan in March 2021, the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey determined that, from January 6-18, 2021, an estimated 869,691 households were very likely or somewhat likely to be evicted in the next two months, and an estimated three-quarters of these households had children under 18 years old. Even though more relief is now available, we continue to hear from people across the state about how the apprehension of that period remains.
The report continues by examining the digital divide and its impact upon millions of schoolchildren in Texas. As districts rolled out policies governing distance learning in the spring of 2020, many children did not receive the resources they needed to continue their instruction. According to data that we received from the Texas Education Agency, 97 districts across the state had less than 75% of student engagement from March 2020 to June 2020. Among the top 10 largest districts with less than 75% of engagement were Houston ISD and KIPP Texas Public Schools.
In addition to the stress caused by uneven remote learning access, young people and their parents also had to worry about potential criminal consequences for school attendance over the past year. We sent public records requests to a number of districts in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to get a better sense of how truancy referrals unfolded over the past year, given the districts’ history of aggressively punishing students for chronic absenteeism. During the fall of 2020, Mesquite ISD and Duncanville ISD collectively filed over 300 truancy cases against parents and students. With all they faced during this crisis, young people and the adults charged with their care still had to navigate the criminal legal system in its various forms.
Education Transformed also explores how school districts handled discipline over the past year. During the first three months of the coronavirus pandemic, disciplinary referrals went down considerably, but racial disparities persisted. For example, six students were referred to disciplinary alternative education programs in Amarillo ISD from mid-March 2020 to June 2020, and they were all Latinx. Of note, during that period and since, school policing practices ostensibly remained the same across Texas, even when brick and mortar school buildings were closed. Included in Education Transformed and in previous Texas Appleseed reports, we have recounted the steady, consistent investments in school policing and how that has eclipsed mental health resources in schools — to the detriment of K-12 students across the state.
As the 2020-21 academic year commenced, business as usual — zero tolerance discipline — fully resumed. In collaboration with the Safe and Supportive Schools Collaborative, we examined Houston-area school districts’ exclusionary discipline practices at the start of the 2020-21 academic year. During the first semester of the 2020-21 academic year, Spring Branch ISD administered almost 1,000 disciplinary referrals. The reasons for these referrals ranged from violations of the student code of conduct to possession of marijuana or alcohol. As noted earlier, the racial disparities in discipline administration presently persist. Up to this point in the school year, Black children in Pasadena ISD represent 15% of the disciplinary actions, yet only account for 7% of the student population. It is unconscionable that young people still face the school-to-prison pipeline while attempting to survive the coronavirus pandemic.
"In order to achieve true education justice, there is an urgent call for legislative and educational leaders to examine, identify, and dismantle core systemic barriers that oppress and to activate needed equitable reforms," said Vicky Sullivan, Senior Staff Attorney, Education Justice project at Texas Appleseed.
The report concludes with the bold recommendations that must meet this unparalleled moment. We call on state and local policymakers to suspend STAAR testing this year, commit to diverting funds from school policing budgets to support hiring mental health professionals, and ban exclusionary discipline as this crisis continues. Particularly, as the 87th Legislative Session currently proceeds, we urge legislators to prioritize bills that will alleviate the widespread suffering of this moment, rather than further criminalize young Texans.
About Texas Appleseed
Texas Appleseed is a public interest justice center that works to change unjust laws and policies that prevent Texans from realizing their full potential. Our nonprofit conducts data-driven research that uncovers inequity in laws and policies and identifies solutions for lasting, concrete change. For more information, visit www.TexasAppleseed.org.