May 21, 2021

CSDE Public Comment on ARP ESSER Funding

Daniel Pearson
State Director, Educators for Excellence-Connecticut (E4E-CT)
dpearson@e4e.org
(203) 313-0863

My name is Daniel Pearson and I am the State Director for Educators for Excellence - Connecticut, a teacher-led organization with nearly 1,000 members statewide that seeks to elevate teacher voice in policy decisions. Today, I submit testimony on behalf of our members who are current school-based educators and who have worked tirelessly over the past year to provide their students with the best possible educational experience in a year disrupted by the pandemic. 

As classroom experts, these teachers understand how much their students need this investment of federal dollars to make up for unfinished learning time and to address their social, emotional, and mental health needs. We need innovative programs that go beyond the status quo to ensure all students are provided the tools they need to succeed.

Over the past 6 weeks, E4E-CT has surveyed our members to get their perspective on how they believe the ARP ESSER dollars should be spent to ensure students and teachers have the resources they need to succeed. After speaking with our members, three clear themes emerged:

  1. Close the digital divide  
  2. Increase mental health support
  3. Increase individualized tutoring

Even with the push to return all students to in-person learning, the lesson is clear: having access to high-speed internet and devices is a non-negotiable for student learning in the 21st century. This is of continued concern to our teachers in part because COVID has highlighted the massive digital divide that exists in our communities. Accessibility to devices and high speed internet is essential for our students to learn in today’s environment. This means up-to-date technology and high speed internet access that is capable of having multiple users on it simultaneously and can operate the necessary software programs for a student to thrive--a priority that ARP money can be used to make a reality.

It goes without saying that this past year has been incredibly difficult for us all and this is especially so for our youth. Now more than ever, we need to make substantial investments in our students' social and emotional well being, and the ARP funds are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to finally give our students the support they need and deserve. Teachers want social-emotional training for all staff, as well as more counselors, social workers, school psychologists, and other mental health professionals to support our students through the stressors of the pandemic. These investments are long overdue and we can’t miss our chance to prioritize the social and emotional well being of our students, teachers, and mental health professionals.

Additionally, the past year of disrupted learning has negatively impacted many of our students. As teachers know all too well, each year that a student falls behind, the chances that they catch up decrease exponentially. We must treat lost learning time with the urgency it deserves and enact programming that targets resources to our students’ needs. By increasing individualized tutoring efforts inside and outside of the classroom and school day, students will get the dedicated time they need to focus on any learning gaps that they may have encountered during the pandemic. 

Teachers are supportive of tutoring as a strategy for making up for lost learning time. In E4E’s most recent national survey of educators, in-school tutoring was the most highly favored strategy for making up for learning loss with 61% of teachers in support, which was corroborated by our state-wide survey of our CT members. 

However, not all tutoring is equally effective; it is important that we follow the evidence on high-quality tutoring. Evidence suggests that for tutoring to work, it must be structured and aligned to academic standards and classroom curriculum, that tutors must be well-trained professionals, and that students receive tutoring services consistently and in high doses. Furthermore, evidence suggests that tutoring is most effective when delivered by a trained professional, such as a classroom teacher, paraprofessional or teacher-in-training. This presents a huge opportunity to continue to grow and diversify our state’s teacher workforce by allowing talented paraprofessionals and teacher training candidates to earn additional money and receive credit toward full teacher licensure. 

In order to ensure that the ARP investments are having the desired impact, we need to create metrics that can track success for our students.  When speaking of student success, terms like engagement and disengagement are used frequently, but are not defined. That’s why it is essential to build measurements of what student engagement is and to assess and track levels of engagement. 

Finally, many of our students were grade levels behind before the pandemic and COVID has only made these issues worse. Although we are receiving significant ARP funding, the funding inequities in Connecticut are structural and will not be solved with a one-time cash infusion. Any progress made by federal dollars will be short term and the progress made will not be sustained if we do not fully fund education at the state and district levels. So in addition to targeting the ARP funds in the ways outlined above, we urge you to advocate alongside our teacher members to the Governor and legislators to ensure education is fully funded by the time these federal dollars run out. Without these changes, we are doing a tremendous disservice to our most vulnerable students and the committed teachers that serve them. 

Thank you for your time,

Daniel Pearson
State Director
Educators For Excellence - Connecticut (E4E-CT)
 


About E4E

Founded by public school teachers, Educators for Excellence is a growing movement of more than 33,000 educators nationwide, united around a common set of values and principles for improving student learning and elevating the teaching profession. We work together to identify issues that impact our schools, create solutions to these challenges, and advocate for policies and programs that give all students access to a quality education.

For more information, please visit e4e.org