The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed deep structural inequities in the U.S. health, economic, and education systems. English Learners (ELs) have unequally borne the weight of the pandemic. With less access to educational technology, “fragmented” digital knowledge, and variable home learning environments due to interrupted child care, job loss, and food insecurity as a result of the public-health crisis, many of the nation’s 5 million ELs have experienced uneven instructional opportunities. This has resulted in higher absence rates, declining academic achievement, and setbacks in their English language development.

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARP) includes a historic $122 billion investment for elementary and secondary schools to address the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on the nation’s most vulnerable students, including ELs. The U.S. Department of Education released two-thirds of that funding in March and will disburse the remaining $41 billion after states submit detailed plans outlining their use of ARP dollars. School districts, too, must publicly share their plans for using federal relief funds. These funds, if invested effectively, can help reset the trajectory of education for ELs, who by almost every measure of academic achievement—graduation and dropout rates, college preparation, and state standards—were behind their peers even prior to the pandemic. Some critical starting points the ARP funding could help buttress include community partnerships, effective use of increased learning time, professional development, and family engagement.

School building closures and remote learning both underscored the significance of schools as well as their limitations in supporting ELs. Community-based organizations (CBOs) have played a critical role in reaching, informing, and supporting immigrant communities throughout the pandemic. CBOs have helped EL families navigate online classes, provided additional academic support, and connected families to virtual home-visiting services and other social services.

As in-person learning increasingly becomes the norm once again, CBOs can be significant partners in after-school and summer programming, family engagement, and communication, and supporting social and emotional health. Some districts may go so far as to consider investments in community schools, which powerfully demonstrate the strength of CBO-school partnerships and have shown some significant improvements for ELs in English language arts and math as well as credit accumulation. However, effective collaboration can come in many forms.

Read the full article about rebuilding education for English-learners by Melissa Lazarín and Jazmin Flores Peña at Migration Policy Institute.