Using federal funds to help school districts


Since the start of the pandemic, many leaders have said they are working to get us back to normal.

The problem is, the normal before the pandemic was insufficient for too many people. This includes thousands and thousands of public school students who face poverty, inequality, hunger and injustice – challenges that the pandemic has not only highlighted, but exacerbated.

For them, normality is not enough.

Earlier this year, my union, New York State United Teachers, assembled a Future Forward task force of educators from across the state to develop policies that they believe will can finally approach the poverty, hunger, inequalities and stress that affect students’ learning even before they open their textbooks. The upcoming legislative session provides a golden opportunity to address these fundamental issues that have been evident in the classroom for too long. Federal funding from Washington is flowing to school districts and they must start using it to address pressing concerns, including staff shortages. The state has also committed to fully fund Foundation Aid in the coming years, and the state’s financial plan is clearly announces $ 2.4 billion increase in aid of education for 2022-2023.

It’s a punch that can certainly help with purchasing new technology, updating manuals, and overhauling HVAC systems. But it will take funding and policy changes to expand the services that provide families with the resources that students use to prepare to learn each day to begin with.

Leaders should start by expanding community schools. They can look to North Albany Middle School as an example of the value of this model, with educators reporting the success of a free book program, small group lunches focused on social-emotional learning, and one-to-one lessons. ELA and Mathematics – all based on data that help officials identify students who need these services to help improve their studies. A participant in the United Federation of Teachers’ United Community Schools program, North Albany also offers a clothing closet and pantry for families, a mobile dental clinic, and is looking to add cooking classes and laundry services.

Yet less than half of all districts in the state use the community school model. Funding will be needed to expand community schools and solve problems like hunger by providing free meals to every student, regardless of socioeconomic status.

The pandemic has brought to light the importance of socio-emotional learning, an area educators have worked for years to tackle, but without adequate staffing or professional development training. Classroom teachers are too often the first responders when it comes to helping students cope with socio-emotional issues, which can be caused by trauma from outside of school. American School Counselor Association data from 2019-2020 shows New York’s student-to-school counselor ratio to be 361: 1 – with some districts reporting ratios far exceeding that – well above the recommended ratio of 250: 1 by the group.

The pandemic has clearly highlighted the need for support professionals – nurses, school counselors, psychologists and social workers – in every school building. It is time for lawmakers to pass legislation to require exactly that. Sharing a nurse across multiple buildings or occupying a single counselor with dizzying workloads that prevent her from offering proactive services to students and families is a norm we can no longer accept.

We also must not continue to accept inflated classes. I remember in my classrooms in New York I had the maximum allowed of 32 students each year. Decades later, 30 or more students in one classroom is still a reality in too many schools. While some districts have shown reluctance, it is time to prioritize hiring teachers and avoid eliminating teacher and teaching assistant positions when retiring, which will help us. reduce student-teacher ratios.

And that’s the tip of the iceberg. Diversify education staff, reduce the importance of high-stakes testing, repeal state receivership law, and tackle the digital divide by expanding access to broadband and technology – especially among those who face economic hardships – are all issues lawmakers and education officials need to sink their teeth into the New Year.

When children face poverty, when they need help to overcome trauma, when they don’t have the right tools to continue their education, they don’t come to school ready to learn first. place. It’s time to create a new normal for them. Because when students thrive, we all thrive.

Andy Pallotta is president of the United Teachers Union of New York State.

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