Funding for public schools in the United States is already a constant struggle, particularly for underserved and low-resource districts. According to a 2018 report from The Education Trust, school districts with the highest poverty rates already receive around $1,000 less per pupil than those with the lowest rates of poverty. More than 90% of resources for US public schools comes from state and local funding, and since these lower-resource communities rely most heavily on state assistance, they are most at risk from budget cuts.

With the unprecedented impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, under-resourced schools have been scrambling to figure out how to teach students online where many families do not have internet access at home. Already vulnerable students are missing valuable class time, and other resources such as free or reduced lunches that they may have relied on before. On top of that, schools are bracing for budget cuts for the 2020-2021 school year, and leaving schools to make difficult decisions about which teachers and what classes remain next year with the uncertainty of whether classes will resume on campus or not. Some districts have already started laying off employees and cutting programs.

In many underserved districts, often the first classes to be cut back are specials and elective classes. Currently due to COVID-19 in some of these districts, including rural districts in Colorado, school downsizing also includes laying off important resources such as school counselors and social workers as well as slashing college readiness programs and, interventions that assist English Language Learners.

For many students, important services like counseling and programs like the arts, sports, gifted programs, and school field trips may be some of the only opportunities they have to let off steam and help them learn important coping skills, learn more about the world outside of their neighborhoods, or expose themselves to new hobbies and interests. For some hopeful artists and athletes, these budget cuts may also mean the loss of college scholarships.

Fortunately some low-income communities are already pushing back against these cutbacks, such as in Randolph, Massachusetts, where a petition is pushing to maintain funding for K-12 music, art, physical education, and elementary guidance counselors who are set to be cut by Randolph Public Schools. Some districts such as Portland Public Schools are deciding to use their resources differently this coming school year, and are in talks to both remove police officers from school campuses and increase spending on counselors and social workers as a result of students’ calls for racial justice.

Our most vulnerable students have the most to lose when these services and elective programs get cut. If we believe that our schools not only teach our children, but also help to raise them, is it not also our collective responsibility to ensure that all children are receiving a well-rounded education, particularly our most in need? To not only teach them times tables, but also to teach them the value of teamwork? To not only teach them to read, but also to teach them how to step into another person’s shoes? To not only teach them to follow directions, but also how to express themselves in a healthy way? If we want to raise a new generation of thoughtful and engaged community members that are prepared to take on the world, we should make sure that their inner world has the chance to be just as rich and diverse and beautiful. We should not, during these unprecedented times, be removing the very things we turn to to help us cope.

Here are some ways that you can take action from home during COVID-19:

  • Check out Americans for the Arts Action Fund’s action items for how to support the arts and arts education during COVID-19 nation-wide.
  • Find out if the local school board in your district has approved any policies to defend these programs against budget cuts. If not, consider starting a dialogue with local teachers, school leadership, parents, and community leaders about how these programs can be protected, and how existing resources could be better spent to support students in the future.
  • Write your elected representatives, and encourage others to write, about maintaining these important school programs and services and their value during times of crisis.




Laura Florick is a Research Associate in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas.