The American Rescue Plan is sending an additional $128 billion in federal dollars to elementary and secondary schools to help students recover from the difficult year of learning caused by the pandemic. After an incredibly challenging year for students and teachers, these investments are an opportunity not just to build back following the pandemic, but also to target resources equitably. This influx of funds will give states a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reimagine our education system to better meet kids’ needs and leverage teachers’ talents, but they must decide quickly—states had just six weeks to submit their plans and districts have just a few months to determine how they will use the funds.
States were required to gather stakeholder input, but building strong plans and garnering buy-in was a real challenge given the short timeline, but doing so is ultimately critical to the plans’ success. Policymakers must continue to solicit and incorporate feedback from a broad swath of education stakeholders. Families, students, and teachers saw the impact of the pandemic first hand and are best positioned to pave the way toward genuine recovery.
As someone who works with teachers across the country every day, I know the passion for student success and expertise that teachers bring to the table. They know exactly what is needed to support their students to thrive socially and academically. Policymakers need teachers’ invaluable on-the-ground experience from the last year and a half so we can invest in the programs and resources that will help them meet students where they are and begin making up for lost time.
As evidenced by the plans already submitted, few education offices are set up to gather stakeholder feedback as quickly as they need to—they need help. At Educators for Excellence (E4E), elevating teacher voice is baked into our mission. That’s why our staff has mobilized to speak with thousands of teachers and collect their insights—and we hope other nonprofits will similarly assist with stakeholder input from parents and students.
Over the past month, we have made nearly 30,000 calls to members in our six chapters across the country. These educators have shared with us the challenges of the past year as well as the concerns they have about their students’ unfinished learning and mental health. But these conversations have also given us hope as teachers have smart ideas for how schools can support our kids through this crisis and how we can innovate to make education more equitable and effective for all students in the future.
Regardless of location, in our conversations, the same priorities have emerged for how our members would like to see federal stimulus dollars used in their schools. Teachers want high-quality, culturally relevant curriculum and evidence-based interventions for students who have experienced acute learning loss. They are open to an array of options to meet students’ individual needs, from building interventions into the regular school day like accelerated learning programs, creating individualized tutoring programs, or strengthening after-school and summer school programming—as long as they are effective for students.
Teachers, who know how illness and isolation have negatively impacted their students’ wellbeing and ability to focus on academics, have also prioritized mental health supports, including social-emotional training for all staff as well as more counselors, social workers, school psychologists who can help students overcome the trauma caused by the pandemic. And, having seen how inequitable access to technology prevented students from fully participating in their education, teachers want states to ensure every student has access not just to a computer, but also to reliable high-speed internet, so they have the tools to learn and connect wherever they are.
We’re glad that federal and state governments are requiring stakeholder feedback in their plans, but now they need to make sure these conversations actually happen. With built-in networks and regular communication channels, governments should leverage community organizations’ and nonprofits’ relationships with stakeholders to ensure that the feedback they receive is representative and from a larger number of constituents than otherwise would be possible.
E4E is proud to be able to share the expertise of our members. It’s not just important for our mission, it’s critical to schools’ ability to maximize these unprecedented resources to support student learning. We believe that when teachers speak, we all should listen—and our work makes it easier for education officials to do just that.