We have started a new, parent-focused podcast on all things education: Poder de Padres Podcast. Our goal is to raise parent voices regarding distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hosted by Innovate’s Joel Soria, the podcast will feature different guests discussing topics related to best practices, challenges, insights, feelings and news regarding distance learning or other issues of interest to parents in San Jose.

One of the many goals of the podcast is to highlight educational inequities, so that district and charter decision-makers will implement effective distance learning systems by taking parent perspective into account.

In the first episode, Soria talked with Innovate’s Senior Manager of Research and Policy Joanna French about the CARES Act and what the relief fund means for our local, public education. Listen to podcast in Spanish below or scroll down for English transcription.

Joel: Welcome to Poder de Padres Podcast created by Innovate Public Schools to raise parents’ perspective on public education and highlight educational inequalities. The first guest on the podcast is Innovate Research and Policy Manager Joanna French. The main topic of discussion will be the Coronavirus Economic Aid, Relief and Security Act, better known as the CARES Act, and how the funds derived from the law will influence our local education during quarantine.

Joel: Joanna, thanks for joining us.

Joanna: Hi Joel, thanks so much for having me on this podcast. I am very grateful and very excited to be here with you.

Joel: The COVID-19 pandemic, better known as the coronavirus, has greatly affected education in our country, completely changing learning to the digital world, exacerbating educational gaps that, perhaps, already existed before.

Joanna: Yes, it is the truth. This will be a very difficult time. Many populations are not yet receiving Zoom classes, or digital or virtual classes. It is very difficult.

Joel: The situation has called for Congress to act, who approved the CARES Act, a package of aid to give, in quotes, state education funds, flexibility as a result of COVID-19. I have a couple of questions regarding this, Joanna. The first would be, how much money are we talking about?

Joanna: We are talking about a lot of money, Joel, we are talking about $ 2 trillion. That money can be for many things, to support individual families, also to support small businesses and also to do primary, secondary education, for universities and colleges as well.

Joel: Speaking of elementary, middle and high school, is this money going directly to school districts?

Joanna: Not exactly. First, the money will go to the states. The departments of education, in each state, will receive funds for primary and secondary education. Also, a separate fund package for colleges and universities. Also, another fund to do for governors, governors can decide what they want to do with these funds, but they need to use them for education, too. There are like three bundles of funds.

Joel: What would be the criteria for a school district to get that money, those funds?

Joanna: Yes, it is a good question. After the states receive the funds, they will distribute the funds to each district that received title one money last year. There is that title one and that means there is a population of low-income students, who need more help. This law, which was passed in 2015, each district receives additional funds to support these students.
Depending on the proportion districts received last year, they will receive the same proportion this year from CARES Act funds.

Joel: How much do we anticipate will be allocated to San José Unified School District?

Joanna: It’s a good question, Joel. There is an estimate, we think that San José Unified School District will receive $ 3,500,000 from this fund.

Joel: What can the CARES Act funds be used for? Reducing the digital divide, perhaps? Maybe end food insecurity, summer school, what are examples?

Joanna: Yes, districts can use the funds for many things. We still don’t know how the funds will be used. For example, they can use them for 12 areas that are explained in the law. Some of the ideas may be to support low-income students, also to support more students in English learning, also students with disabilities or different learning skills. Also to support students during the summer, because we are thinking that many students are going to lose their learning during this time, because the schools are closed. They can also be to buy technology, to support children who do not have computers, tablets or the Internet at home; They can be for many things.
We are thinking – we don’t know yet – but we are thinking that the funds can be used to pay for costs that districts have already had. Many districts have already paid for more technology, or more food, or something like that. We think that the funds will also pay these costs.

Joel: What is the time period of the process? I mean, obviously, the law has passed. How long can the funds go, for example, to San José Unified School District so they can use that money?

Joanna: It’s a good question, Joel. We don’t know exactly, but we are thinking that districts will receive at least part of the funds before the first day of July. Let’s see if this happens, but we think that, on the first day of July, most districts will receive at least part of the funds.

Joel: What is the difference between the process of these funds, with the process that comes from the federal system? On education.

Joanna: It’s a good question, Joel. I don’t know everything about this process, I can tell what I know, but there are still more questions that I have, too. We can also have another conversation, maybe, in a week, to discuss it further. I know that the process is now similar in a way that each district will receive the same proportion that they received last year from Title One. In this way, the process is similar to past years. One question I have is that, for many populations, people have already lost their jobs, now they have much more financial difficulties. In my opinion, I think that the situation has changed a lot in these months. I don’t know exactly how the decision process will take into account the changes in populations, in their economic situations. We have information from last year on how many students are on low incomes or need more financial aid, but this information is already very old and has already changed a lot. We do not know, yet, how the new information will be taken into account.

Joel: How can parents make sure their districts use their funds fairly?

Joanna: It’s a good question too, Joel. I think the first thing is that parents need to be involved in the decision process and now it is very difficult because a lot has changed. The spaces that existed before this coronavirus pandemic, many of those spaces, like San Jose Unified School District board meetings, or like CACSI meetings or DLAC meetings, are not happening in the same way as before. Some of the meetings are no longer happening, they no longer have those meetings.
Also, many of the meetings do not have translation for each population; Spanish translation during the meeting. In my opinion, this is very difficult, because parents need to have a space to express their opinions on this money, where the funds need to go and do not have enough spaces to do so. Parents need to tell districts, “We need a space to voice our opinions and to have information about the questions that districts still have about this money, so that we can be involved in these conversations.”

Joel: In closing, Joanna, one last question, is there anything else parents should know about the CARES Act?

Joanna: Yes. I think the other thing is that, all of us in our country, we are still responding to this crisis, nothing is going to be perfect right now. People are working hard to ensure that everyone has a sufficient and quality education, but I think that the most important thing is to include parents and families in the process of making decisions about those funds, also about education plans. Now, this is not happening in San José Unified School District and in many different districts. Decisions are being made by the leaders of these districts and not with the opinions of parents. I think we need a space, we need to have conversations about these decisions. That is the most important. Joel, I know you know the questions we still have about the CARES law, maybe you can ask the questions for parents, the questions that they still need to ask the leaders of their districts.

Joel: Yes. I personally, Joanna, have five questions. The first would be, how will districts apply for funds? Second, what will the calculation be like to receive funds for private schools? If there will be restrictions on how districts can spend funds, if districts will need written and approved plans to spend funds. How do districts need to report on how they used the funds? There are many questions that, obviously, on this day, still, do not have answers.

Joel: Joanna, a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you very much for taking the time and being part of this first podcast.

Joanna: Thank you very much for inviting me, Joel; It was a pleasure for me.

Joel: Parents and listeners, what questions do you have that you want us to answer in the next podcast? Please inform our organizer, Sofía Lozano Pallares, at 650.562.62.00, extension 158, or send us an email at slozano@innovateschools.org, or send us a message on Facebook to Innovate Public Schools. Thank you.