E4E-CT State Director Daniel Pearson speaks on ARP funding and needs in the classroom
Educators for Excellence-Connecticut State Director Daniel Pearson spoke on Tuesday, November 16th at a ConnCAN event about the American Rescue Plan and how teachers would like to see recent federal funding spent in their districts.
Throughout the summer and the beginning of this school year, E4E-Connecticut surveyed members to find out what issues they are experiencing in their classrooms, and to find out how they think the ARP funds should be spent in their districts to help target these issues.
After speaking with our members, one thing was clear: our teachers are facing unprecedented staffing shortages. These staffing shortages mean that teachers are being asked to do more with fewer resources. They are spending most of their planning periods covering for their colleagues and there’s not enough support staff in the classrooms so students aren’t getting the individualized attention that they need and deserve.
In addition to staffing shortages, our members identified three main areas in a survey to best use the federal funds: closing the digital divide, strengthening student enrichment programs and increasing mental health support in schools.
Our teachers reported constant internet connectivity issues throughout the past school year. Many districts have used previous federal stimulus dollars to help reach a one to one student to technology ratio, but internet access continues to be an issue for many students across the state. Our schools need to ensure that every student has access to high quality technology and high speed internet access. Some districts gave mobile hotspots to students, but a hotspot that’s only 100 megabits/second is not fast enough for students to keep up with their school lessons, especially when hosting more than one device. To ensure equitable access to education, every student and family needs access to high speed internet.
Teachers also emphasized the need to strengthen student enrichment programs and to increase one to one support for students. If we want to improve student outcomes, we need one on one tutoring and intervention opportunities for all students. Allowing students this individualized attention will not only improve student relationships with education staff, but is the best way to mitigate learning loss seen from the pandemic.
Along the same lines, we also need to increase fine arts and extracurricular activities outside of the core reading and STEM curriculum. Experiential learning allows students to learn in multiple ways, exposing them to new environments, hobbies and careers, while also engaging students outside of the normal classroom environment. The federal dollars should be used to make these enrichment programs affordable for all students, including in-school, after school and summer programming.
Our members also reported wanting to see federal funds allocated to mental health support for both students and teachers. Especially after the past two years, mental health and social-emotional learning are more important than ever before. We can incorporate social-emotional learning into our everyday curriculum, and provide professional development and training to equip teachers with the resources needed to manage trauma-related issues in the classroom.
We can also better support teachers’ mental health with managing classroom ratios and hiring additional mental health professionals in our schools. The unprecedented staffing shortages have led to deficiencies in mental health staff, including school psychologists and social workers, leaving students without adequate in-school support. Until we hire replacement staff, our districts need to think creatively and partner with community agencies to give students the support they need.
None of these changes can happen without additional staff in the building. We need to make sure we are using funds to hire more staff instead of continuing to place burdens on our teachers’ shoulders and asking them to add more responsibilities to their plate without additional resources. If our teachers experience burnout, our students do not receive the high quality education they deserve.
We know that the inequities in our schools existed before the pandemic and that the pandemic only further exacerbated these issues. If we want to see lasting change, we need to make sure the federal funds are used to put programs in place, and to hire the staff needed for these programs to be effective.
That’s why it is vital that we also fully fund our districts from the state by the time the federal dollars run out, so we can sustain these improvements without our districts facing a fiscal cliff when these federal funds expire.
How is E4E-Connecticut helping to make these changes? We have a group of very engaged teachers focused on statewide advocacy from our three major districts, Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven, and we have district-specific teacher leader groups. Our teacher leaders are solutions-oriented and hold monthly meetings and attend board of education meetings so they can focus on policy recommendations. We also work to get our teacher leaders in front of key stakeholders like legislators, board of education members, superintendents, etc. Finally, we host rallies and school visits and we create digital actions for our members to help advocate for these changes.
We do this work to ensure our teachers’ voices are heard in the important conversations that directly affect our students and communities.