Every child deserves a real opportunity to succeed, but the racial opportunity gap in America starts in the earliest years. Children of color are less likely to have access to quality childcare and early education programs. The education gap continues as children get older; they are more likely to attend underfunded K-12 schools with worse outcomes[1]; are less likely to have access to technology and connectivity; and are more likely to be burdened by debt from post-secondary education and training, along with many other disparities in educational opportunity.

The business community can be part of the solution by investing further in programs that create equal access for people of color to high-quality education and training, both within educational institutions and at workplaces. Government can reform policies that have created imbalances and provide more funding for programs that will help our nation respond to entrenched racial disparities in education.   

Eighty-six percent of Black students assume loans for higher education, compared to fewer than 70 percent of their White peers.[2] Additionally, Black graduates with a bachelor’s degree default at five times the rate of their white peers.[3] The burden of debt discourages some students from enrolling in college at all. As a result, students of color are underrepresented on college campuses, and those who attend are often saddled with debt for years. Business Roundtable companies are partnering with the Student Freedom Initiative (SFI), a non-profit that eases student debt burdens for STEM students at Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) to provide income-contingent financing to reduce student loan debt, as well as internships and mentoring/tutoring, to juniors and seniors majoring in STEM at 11 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

of Black students assume loans for higher education

While 7 percent of White children ages 3 to 18 live in households that lack access to the internet through some type of computer (desktop, laptop, tablet, or some other type), 19 percent of Hispanic, 21 percent of Black, and 30 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native student households lack adequate home internet access.[4] Though nearly 50 million students are now having to learn remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of students have been left behind in the shift to online learning because they lacked connectivity or a device with which to learn remotely. Business Roundtable companies are providing financial and in-kind contributions to organizations working to improve access to internet connectivity and devices to help close the digital divide.

Due to financial strains caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately 40 percent of childcare centers are likely to close without additional assistance, half of which are owned by people of color.[5] Access to quality childcare is critical for working families, and a loss of capacity would severely affect the nation’s economic recovery and family incomes. Business Roundtable has called for additional funding from Congress for childcare providers to reopen or remain open during the public health crisis in the next round of COVID-19 relief.

A low-income single parent earning 50 percent of the national average wage would have to spend 52 percent of their income for average childcare services. Childcare costs hit Black households, who are more likely to live in poverty, particularly hard. Business Roundtable calls for additional funding from Congress for Child Care Development Block Grants for states to provide high quality and affordable childcare.

Research shows that high-quality pre-K programs can close achievement gaps and reduce high school dropout rates for underserved students.[6] Business Roundtable supports increasing investments in high-quality pre-Kindergarten and expanded pre-Kindergarten for low-income families.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, K-12 schools are struggling to deliver on their promise of a high-quality education while keeping school communities safe.[7] Business Roundtable supports additional funding from Congress to assist K-12 schools in safely reopening and delivering effective online education.

On the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 82 percent of Black 4th graders and 79 percent of Latino 4th graders scored below proficient reading levels, compared to 55 percent of White 4th graders. [8] Business Roundtable supports targeted federal funding for early literacy programs.

Eighty-six percent of Black and 80 percent of Latino 8th graders scored below proficient math levels, compared to 56 percent of White 8th graders. Even further, the dropout rates for Black and Latino students with poor reading skills is twice as high as for White students. To ensure we continue to measure student progress and raise achievement, Business Roundtable supports annual student assessments in reading, math and science.[9]

States offer limited visibility into funding discrepancies within and between school districts, particularly disaggregated by students’ socioeconomic level and race. Most per-student funding data is available only at the district level, which masks disparities in funding for students from disadvantaged groups at individual schools, especially in large, heterogenous districts. States and school districts should offer more accessible and transparent funding allocation data, which can be critical in driving much-needed resources to schools and students in greatest need of support. Business Roundtable supports state publication of disaggregated performance data and funding levels for each school and subgroup as required under Every Student Succeeds Act.

Black and Latino students with poor reading skills are 2x more likely to drop out than White students

Since their establishment in the 1800s, HBCUs have served as an important gateway to higher education for hundreds of thousands of Americans. Today, HBCUs enroll 12 percent of all African American students, produce 23 percent of all African-American graduates, and confer 40 percent of all STEM degrees and 60 percent of all engineering degrees for African-American students.[10] In addition, Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) overall educate a disproportionate number of students who are the first in their families to attend college. Business Roundtable supports additional funding for HBCUs and MSIs to enhance access to and affordability of higher education for underserved populations.

Over one-third of White students, two-thirds of Black students and half of Latino students rely on Pell Grants every year. These grants allow students to pursue a wide range of occupational certificate programs, many of which require a year of coursework or less. However, students can only receive a federal Pell Grant if they enroll in a program of study that requires at least 600 clock hours of instruction over 15 weeks. Thus, the grants do not cover pathways to many valued careers that require less training hours, such as an EMT certification at 170 hours.[11] Business Roundtable supports the modernization of Pell Grants to increase maximum award levels, expand eligibility to short-term programs and restore eligibility for incarcerated individuals.

In 2017, Black students had the lowest college retention rate (52.1 percent) followed closely by Latino students whose retention rate was at 59.5 percent compared to the 62.2 percent of White students.[12] Families and students choosing a post-secondary institutions or program should have information on the cost and quality of the institution, as well as data on outcomes such as graduation rates. Business Roundtable supports increased transparency of data on college completion, employment and other outcomes to enable students to make informed choices and allow policymakers to use such data and incentives to hold institutions accountable.

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