How The Covid-19 Pandemic Is Exposing Inequities in Public Schools

Kathleen Halley-Segal, Grade 9, Staff Writer

The public school system was already failing low-income families before 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic has just made this issue worse. Low-income students, many of whom are students of color, face a virtual school world without easy access to online resources and with increased financial insecurity.

Students who once depended on school WiFi and computers are left without the basic online schooling necessities. In a 2018 Pew Research Center Survey, 21% of teens with a family income under $30,000 were forced to use public WiFi for schoolwork. Cut off from outside resources, millions of low-income Black, Latino, and Indigenous students now have no working internet or computer. Low-income families make up 70% of New York City public school students, and to accommodate them, hundreds of thousands of working electronics must be distributed across the five boroughs.

Even if provided with a working computer, low-income families are cornered in terms of physical space. In New York City, one out of 10 public school students lacks permanent housing. Many poorer students cannot join a Zoom meeting because there is no place where they can work without being surrounded by other people.

While students attempt to find the space and connection to join class, parents struggle to find their next meal. In the pre-Covid world, 14% of families in the United States struggled with food insecurity. That percentage is rising rapidly now that students can no longer access dependable lunch and breakfast meals at school. The physical burden of poor nutrition and the psychological stress of food insecurity greatly damages a student’s academic achievement.

Public schools are also at a loss for funds. Ninety-three percent of public school funding is from tax revenue. Due to the economic downturn, state and local taxes have decreased, causing public school resources to decline considerably. How are public schools supposed to provide working computers and meals to students when their main source of income is being depleted?

Some Americans may believe that the Covid-19 crisis created these challenges for low-income students; the reality is that the pandemic exacerbated long-standing and deep-rooted inequality in our public schools. The difficulties these students face is a reflection of an education system that was failing them from the start.

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