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CEHS doctoral student gets a taste of the policy world through summer research position

Tamicah Owens began her career as an English teacher in North Carolina with a passion for working with students in rural communities.

Tamicah Owens

Tamicah Owens

When a family move brought her to Morgantown, West Virginia, she chose to pursue her master’s degree in instructional design and technology in CEHS. Through the courses in her master’s program, Owens became interested in furthering her career in research and advocacy work surrounding rural education, adolescent literacy, Black students’ classroom experiences and educational policy.

Now a Ph.D. student in educational theory and practice in CEHS, Owens was able to pursue some of these interests as a summer research associate for the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy is a statewide, nonpartisan and non-profit policy research organization that contributes policy analysis to inform public dialog and policy in West Virginia.

While working for the organization, Owens was tasked with composing a policy brief that explores how federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, issued to states to provide economic relief in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, can be used to support West Virginia school districts. Specifically, Owens examined the Act’s Elementary and Secondary Relief Fund, which granted West Virginia schools $761.9 million to meet students’ educational needs and compensate for the academic losses caused by the pandemic.

“I spent the summer talking to teachers, parents and policy writers from other states, as well as speaking to colleagues in the Center to learn more about education policy and how funds from the American Rescue Plan Act could be distributed,” Owens said.

In her report, Owens outlines recommendations for using American Rescue Plan Act funds to address systemic educational inequities in West Virginia, inequities which were compounded by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. When schools closed and education shifted online, students from families with both parents working outside of the family and/or families without internet access suffered greater learning losses. The report also cites preliminary studies which found that students of color demonstrated greater learning losses than white students as a result of the pandemic. 

To help all students catch up, the report recommends increasing student support staff, training faculty and staff to implement culturally responsive classrooms, supporting summer and extended day programs to offer additional learning time, and working with local agencies to provide additional services to students.

Per the guidelines set forth by the American Rescue Plan Act, school districts must make their plans for the funding available for public comment. Owens’ report offers suggestions for collecting community input on school districts’ plans to use the funds so that families without internet access can still participate in the process. Recommendations include using robocalls, text messages and mailers to reach those families, many of which have been disproportionately burdened by the pandemic.

Throughout her experience, Owens gained a greater understanding of the function of policy centers in the legislative landscape.

“I learned that coalitions and policy centers play a large role in creating legislation and can have a direct impact on federal and state government funding and lawmaking,” Owens said. “I didn’t fully understand that process before. I probably thought what most of the public thinks, which is that legislators make many of the laws themselves. But that isn’t the case, and anyone can be a part of the process.”

Owens discovered this summer opportunity through a policy course she took during the Spring 2021 semester. A guest speaker from the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy presented about the organization, and afterwards, Owens applied for the position.

Owens credits her experience in the educational theory and practice doctoral program for preparing her for success as a summer research associate. 

“I couldn’t have done this without my policy coursework, but every course I have taken has helped me to become a better writer,” Owens said. “My professors continually give me a strong foundation in writing and have supported me to make sure that my writing improves every year.”

Once she completes her doctoral program, Owens hopes to serve as a professor in an educator preparation program and continue to engage in advocacy and policy work that impacts students and parents.

Click here to read Owens’ full report for the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.