Opinion

Opinion: Lawmakers need to take swift action on federal education funds 

Congress passed, and President Joe Biden signed, the American Rescue Plan 10 months ago, creating the most significant infusion of funds for students and local schools in our nation’s history.

Nevertheless, the Missouri legislature has yet to move the $1.9 billion to our students who need help overcoming the learning impacts of COVID-19. If lawmakers fail to act and appropriate the American Rescue Plan funds by March 24, our students may lose out on help this school year.

The last two years have been difficult for students, school staff and every Missouri family. Students in our local schools are experiencing an unprecedented shortage of teachers, interrupted learning, emotional stress, and ongoing health and safety concerns.

In most states, the American Rescue Plan funds were distributed in the fall to address COVID-19 challenges throughout this school year. In early August, our local school districts submitted their ARP plans to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. However, because the Missouri legislature has not appropriated ARP funds, they still have not seen the money to fund those plans.

Despite the Missouri legislature’s inaction, teachers and school personnel have focused on maintaining in-person instruction and have worked tirelessly to adjust to the pandemic’s uncertainty and chaos. They continue to be in classrooms emotionally supporting students, keeping them safe, closing learning gaps, and helping students achieve.

In states where legislatures appropriated the American Rescue Plan funds quickly, local school districts are helping students based on their unique needs.  For example, school districts have:

  • hired reading and math specialists to help students who suffered disrupted learning due to COVID-19
  • recognized the stress and trauma students are experiencing and hired counselors and mental health professionals to support students and families
  • prioritized students’ receiving more individual time and attention by hiring classroom aides to support classroom instruction

Students can overcome the disruptive effects of the pandemic with the resources provided by the American Rescue Plan funds.

The Missouri General Assembly is currently considering House Bill 3014 to appropriate the American Rescue Plan Funds. Rapidly approving HB 3014 ensures there is adequate time for neighborhood schools to plan and use those funds to the best advantage in serving the needs of students and addressing learning loss.

Teachers and school personnel urge the Missouri Legislature to expedite the passage of House Bill 3014 before the March 24th deadline to ensure students and educators get the support they need.

Suspend Standardized Testing 

Due to the unusual student learning conditions caused by the pandemic again this school year, other states are scaling back or canceling state standardized tests. Without the American Rescue Plan funding yet available to address pandemic interrupted learning, student stress and staff shortages, it seems odd that our Jefferson City policymakers are not waiving state testing requirements this Spring.

Teachers know that every moment of classroom time is vital to students. However, against educator recommendations, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Missouri General Assembly seem determined to require students to sacrifice valuable weeks of learning time to prepare and take the state tests. Right now, students need individual attention and support, not bubble tests.

Teachers and school staff are dedicated and highly qualified professionals who care deeply about the success of every student. Now is the time to trust in those who have shown a deep commitment to students while keeping them safe. No one becomes a teacher or works in a school thinking they will have a corner office or drive a luxury car. They do it because they care about students. Now is the time to eliminate unnecessary testing and put the American Rescue Plan funds to work for students.

Phil Murray

This commentary by Phil Murray is published from The Missouri Independent through a Creative Commons license. Murray is an elementary school teacher and serves as president of the Missouri National Education Association.

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