We write to you as concerned educators, parents, and students to request that you act immediately to save our public schools. We join the Council of the Great City Schools in urging the federal government to invest a minimum of $175 billion in Educational Stabilization Funds distributed to the local level through the Title I formula, $13 billion for the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, and $12 billion in additional Title I program funding.
When public schools resume classroom activities, our top priority should be to ensure the safety of our students, their families, and all school employees. At minimum, schools must purchase personal protective equipment for students and staff, hire more nurses to monitor their health, hire more custodians to sanitize the classrooms more frequently, and hire more teachers to reduce class sizes. If Congress does not distribute at least $200 billion in emergency funds for K-12 classrooms, many schools will not be able to protect teachers, staff, parents, and most importantly our country’s most valued asset — our children.
The economic demands of the pandemic have negatively impacted every school district in the United States. Schools are facing financial hardships due the numerous and unexpected expenses made to keep students safe and healthy. These hardships will soon turn into a catastrophe due to the looming budget cuts. Since most school districts across the country are funded mainly through local and state dollars, this year’s sales tax revenue shortfall will result in major education budget cuts. The Learning Policy Institute projects that budget cuts across the nation would mean an 8.4% reduction in the U.S. teaching force, with some states seeing reductions larger than 20%. These cuts are dangerous to students and their families because they will cause class sizes to increase, making it impossible to implement any sort of science-informed physical distancing protocols. We cannot prevent this national disaster without a $200 billion investment from the federal government.
Furthermore, schools everywhere are currently in dire need of emergency funding to support our children’s mental health. Whether students return to the learning environment in person or online, their health and safety depends on the socio-emotional support provided by schools. Even though we don’t know the full extent of the psychological toll that the pandemic has had on children, the deep sense of loneliness caused by social isolation has been detrimental to their health. As many families continue to struggle with poverty, unemployment, food insecurity, and housing insecurity, children will increasingly experience debilitating anxiety, stress, and depression. In an age when the demand for equity is knocking on everyone’s door, conditions associated with mental health issues are disproportionately impacting Black children, children of color, children living in poverty, and children with disabilities. These children will be returning online and in-person to chronically underfunded schools.
For students to be ready and able to learn, schools must ensure they have robust emotional supports in place. Schools must provide more mental health professionals, including school psychologists, counselors, and behavior interventionists. This requires an investment of at least $200 billion from the federal level.
Federal emergency funds will help our communities ensure that all students receive a fair chance at success. With proper funding, schools can close the academic opportunity and equity gap, put an end to the discriminatory discipline disparity, and dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. The murder of Mr. George Floyd and the uprisings that followed have forced every institution to bend toward justice. Parents, students, and educators are working together to dismantle the systems of oppression and anti-Blackness within our schools. The Black Lives Matter movement, organized by the Black community with the leadership of Black women, has transformed how society views and defines educational justice. The tireless efforts and the persistent work of these dedicated individuals has put school districts on the path toward educational reconstruction and racial equity. We cannot allow budget cuts to jeopardize this progress.
It is with the greatest sense of urgency that we ask you to immediately invest $200 billion in our K-12 public school system. Do not allow political negligence and gamesmanship to harm our children. The future of this country and our children is in your hands.
Megan Kerr is the vice president of the LBUSD Board of Education. Cesar Armendariz is a Downey High School teacher and Long Beach resident.