Expiration of federal school stimulus stresses the need for lasting investments

By MEA President Chandra Madafferi

Federal school rescue funds provided by the Biden administration to help Michigan students recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will run out later this year, and it’s critical that our leaders identify revenue streams to maintain the progress our schools have been making.

Michigan received a total of $5.63 billion in federal school relief, with the vast majority coming under President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan. In addition, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has passed record education budgets with bipartisan support from the Legislature.

These investments have been critical in supporting our students, educators and families through the pandemic and its aftermath. While our schools continue to face significant challenges, it’s unimaginable where we would be without Biden and Whitmer’s timely support.

Here are just a few examples of how federal funds have helped Michigan students — particularly our most vulnerable children — these past few years. Federal funds have supported:

  • Academic interventions for students who fell behind, including tutoring, summer programs, credit recovery, academic coaching and more.
  • Expanded access to counseling and other mental health assistance, including social-emotional learning programs and resources aimed at supporting the mental health and behavioral needs of students.
  • Improvements to students’ learning environments, including new school safety equipment and infrastructure, modernized ventilation systems and addressing long-deferred maintenance needs.
  • Upgrades to schools, students and educators’ technology and connectivity needs, including the purchase of mobile learning devices, the installation of reliable broadband internet for rural areas and support for digital learning platforms.
  • Financial support for programs designed to attract and retain high-quality educators through salary increases, bonuses, stipends and professional development opportunities.

None of these investments are luxuries — they are all essential to student learning. The pandemic spotlighted myriad inequities facing students, parents, and educators, and the federal school rescue funds provided us with a great start in addressing those serious problems.

But that extra support is running out. School districts have until Sept. 30 to spend the remaining $935 million in federal school rescue funds before it’s gone for good.

Even after the federal money is gone, many of the challenges will remain. That’s why our state and communities must make long-term, structural investments in our children’s schools so we can continue funding critical needs.

We should have funded these needs all along, if not for decades of divestment in public education that put our schools in a massive hole. The progress we’ve made over the last several years has allowed us to slowly begin climbing out of that hole, but we are still underfunding students’ basic needs, as well as the acute needs of students with disabilities and those in low-income areas.

Due to a lack of stable and adequate funding, some school districts have over-relied on federal stimulus funds to cover their operating expenses, leading to potential structural deficits that threaten to erase the progress they have made. These schools now face the difficult task of addressing their budget deficits while still trying to provide a high-quality education to their students. Administrators and school boards must work closely with their frontline educators to find solutions that prioritize the needs of students, including the use of reserve funds whenever possible.

The expiration of federal school rescue funds should serve as a reminder to policymakers at all levels of government that we cannot rely on temporary fixes to address the structural challenges in our schools. Instead, our elected leaders must commit to making bold, sustained investments in public education to ensure every student can succeed.

Our state has made tremendous progress, and we must continue that commitment for the benefit of our students, educators and communities.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain, Michigan Education Association President Chandra Madafferi, Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights Executive Secretary-Treasurer Tom Lutz and selected Service Employees International Union members.

(Posted as submitted to Detroit News)

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