May 26 2020
Our Education System Is Adapting to the COVID-19 Crisis
This month, thousands of young people across Mississippi are celebrating their graduation from high school or college. Normally they would have the chance to gather for commencement, walk the stage, and throw their caps into the air in celebration. But the ongoing pandemic has meant a lot of folks are celebrating at home with family members.
I commend our most recent graduates on their academic achievement. They have worked to reach this milestone and have earned the right to take a bow. The Class of 2020 represents a new decade of graduates who will serve and lead our society long into the future. And we have a lot riding on their success. We all stand to benefit from the contributions they will make as nurses, doctors, teachers, soldiers, business owners, and ministers. We also look to them as the future mentors, coaches, moms, and dads who will raise the next generation. These are worthy callings, and I believe the Class of 2020 is up for the challenge.
Schools Pivot to Meet Education Needs
As this year’s graduates begin a new chapter of life, many students who are still in school remain uncertain about what the fall will bring. Parents, teachers, and school administrators are preparing for a school year that may look different from years past.
Classrooms at all levels have had to pivot toward online distance learning during this crisis. Although not ideal, this mode of learning has enabled students to stay on track with their studies. Teachers are sending lessons by video, and students are becoming adept at using the technology involved. Such a technological feat would have been hard to imagine just 20 years ago.
Unfortunately, some schools lack the resources to take full advantage of this technology and adapt their operations. Congress recently addressed this need by providing emergency K-12 funding to states, including $170 million designated for Mississippi. Schools may use this money to purchase computers, software, and internet access for their students, in addition to other measures to address health concerns.
Helping Students Amid the Crisis
Congress has also worked to provide targeted relief for college students. Like other Americans forced out of work by this pandemic, many students have lost jobs that were helping them pay for school. These unemployed students are eligible for the same benefits Congress provided to all Americans through the Paycheck Protection Program and expanded unemployment benefits. And for those who held a campus job through the Federal Work-Study Program, Congress has allowed colleges to continue paying them if they lost their job because of the closures. We also provided over $6 billion in emergency cash grants to help students adjust to campus disruptions.
For other students who have had to drop out of school because of this crisis, Congress recently removed their obligation to pay back federal aid money. We also made sure any classes they dropped will not count against their eligibility for future aid. And to give former students financial breathing room, we suspended all federal student loan payment deadlines until September.This crisis has not been kind to teachers and students. But the creativity they have shown in overcoming severe obstacles should be a source of pride for us all. As scientists continue their work on a vaccine and testing equipment that will enable us all to return to normal life, I remain committed to providing students and schools with the resources they need to persevere through this pandemic.