Commentary

Schools need help to meet kids’ needs

July 29, 2021 6:00 am
School lunchroom middle school

“middle school lunch room — sneak peek in the lunchroom with the sixth graders” Photo by woodleywonderworks CC BY 2.0

School may be out for the summer, but Wisconsin educators are already thinking ahead to fall when we welcome students back to class. Teachers will be ready to meet children’s academic, social and emotional needs in our classrooms, but we can’t do it alone.

It’s never been clearer how decisions at the state and federal affect everyone in our communities, including our students. One of the best decisions that will serve us all in building back from the pandemic is the American Rescue Plan. This landmark legislation makes extraordinary investments across the board, including in closing opportunity gaps and reduce child poverty. 

The pandemic exposed hunger and housing insecurity many of our students’ families face every day – which directly impact the ability to learn. The Child Tax Credit that is arriving in parents’ bank accounts this summer may reduce child poverty by half, addressing these challenges head-on.

Federal investments in education technology are another big part of the law, providing the single largest one-time investment in the federal E-rate program and helping all students get an internet connection or learning device at home. 

The one-time federal funding is not intended to supplant state investments in schools. It is designed to be certain all schools can adapt to changes forced by the pandemic and put safety measures in place. Roadblocks placed by Wisconsin Republican legislative leaders, however, have resulted in a state budget that prevents local schools from keeping up with rising costs and special education expenses. Just this week, Republicans refused to take up Governor Tony Evers’ call to properly fund public schools through a special session of the Legislature.

The State of Wisconsin must maintain funding for local schools so federal funding can be directed to urgent needs exacerbated by the pandemic such as learning loss and mental health needs. Federal funding is desperately needed to reduce class sizes and allow for social distancing; modernize HVAC systems; hire school custodians, nurses and counselors; and provide safe transportation.

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Our students need true champions with a vision to build back, and then go beyond. That’s what they have in President Joe Biden and the Democrats in Congress who never stopped until they passed a plan to help the most vulnerable among us, our children. It’s an absolute shame not a single Republican member of Congress supported this essential legislation. It’s also shameful Wisconsin Republicans refuse to do their part.

Through the American Rescue Plan, we have an opportunity to solve critical problems to make futures brighter. But only if federal and state leaders maintain strong investments in schools.

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Ron Martin
Ron Martin

Ron Martin is an Eau Claire social studies teacher who has 20 years of direct classroom experience with students, primarily in seventh and eighth grade, but also in the alternative high school/off-campus program. A longtime student council advisor and Altoona head volleyball coach, he has also served as a new teacher mentor and is president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council.

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