The biggest debate in education at the moment is the question of whether to spend billions of “American Rescue Plan” dollars on shoring up decaying U.S. schools, or on new programs like preschool and expanded after-school programs.
When the federal government released its proposed spending plan for the next fiscal year, advocates for public education were overjoyed. The $1.3 trillion of federal funding that is set aside for public education is the largest chunk of the $4.3 trillion of total discretionary spending proposed by the Trump administration as part of the most recent federal budget.
The U.S. stimulus package includes $128 billion in additional federal funding for elementary and secondary schools to help students recover from a difficult learning year due to the pandemic. After an incredibly difficult year for students and faculty, this investment not only offers a chance to recover from the pandemic, but also to distribute resources fairly. This influx of funds gives states a unique opportunity to overhaul our education system to better meet the needs of children and harness the talents of teachers, but they must decide quickly: states have just six weeks to submit their plans and districts have just a few months to determine how they will use the funds.
States should seek input from stakeholders. Creating solid plans and engaging stakeholders was a real challenge given the tight timelines, but was ultimately critical to the success of the plans. Policy makers should continue to seek and take into account input from a wide range of education stakeholders. Families, students and teachers have experienced the effects of the pandemic first hand and are in the best position to lead the way to a true recovery. As someone who works daily with teachers across the country, I know the passion teachers have for the success of their students and the expertise with which they work.
They know exactly what it takes for their students to succeed socially and academically. Policymakers need the invaluable experience of local teachers over the past year and a half, so that we can invest in programs and resources that will allow them to help students where they are and bring them up to speed. As the plans already submitted show, few education departments are organized to gather stakeholder feedback as quickly as they need it – they need help. At Educators for Excellence (E4E), profiling teachers is an essential part of our mission.
That’s why our staff has sprung into action to talk to thousands of teachers and gather their input – and we hope other nonprofits will provide similar support to gather input from parents and students. Last month, we made nearly 30,000 phone calls to members of our six chapters across the country. These educators shared with us the challenges of the past year, as well as their concerns about incomplete learning and the mental health of their students. But these conversations have also given us hope as teachers have smart ideas about how schools can support our children in this crisis and how we can innovate to make education more equitable and effective for all students in the future.
Regardless of location, our conversations revealed that our members share the same priorities in how they would like to see federal stimulus funds used in their schools. Teachers want a culturally relevant, high-quality curriculum and evidence-based interventions for students with acute learning disabilities. They are open to different options to meet the individual needs of the students. This may include, for example, integrating activities into the normal school day. B. Accelerated learning programs, the introduction of individual tutoring programs, and the improvement of after-school and summer learning programs – to the extent that they are effective for students.
Teachers who understand the negative impact of illness and isolation on their students’ well-being and ability to focus on learning are also focusing on mental health support, including social-emotional training for all staff, as well as expanding the number of counselors, social workers, and school psychologists who can help students cope with the trauma of the pandemic. And because unequal access to technology prevents students from fully participating in education, educators want states to ensure that every student has access not only to a computer, but to a reliable, high-speed Internet connection so they can learn and connect wherever they are.
We are pleased that federal and state agencies are asking stakeholders for feedback on their plans, but now they need to make sure these conversations actually happen. Through integrated networks and regular communication channels, governments should leverage stakeholder relationships with grassroots organizations and non-profits to ensure that the feedback they receive is representative and comes from a wider range of constituencies than would otherwise be possible.
E4E is proud to share the experiences of its members. This is not only important to our mission, but also critical to the ability of schools to make the best use of these unprecedented resources to support student learning. We believe we should all listen to what teachers have to say – and our work makes it easier for education officials to do so. Photo: Getty Images Signature, licensed from Canva.