Counterpoint: District’s Use of COVID Funds Makes Sense and Strategic
The past 18 months have been extremely difficult for students, families, staff and the larger community of Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS). The COVID-19 pandemic has created uncertainty and upheaval that we could not have imagined at the dawn of the new decade. A full recognition of the loss will take years to understand.
In addition to the learning disruptions and social disconnections that our students have experienced, we have also seen their tremendous resilience. We have witnessed a remarkable coalition of parents, partners, staff and stakeholders who came together to support them.
The most recent example came last week, when MPS took the final step to secure the third phase of federal pandemic relief funds made possible by the US bailout that President Joe Biden enacted earlier. This year. When we clicked on “send” to submit the application and the documents required by the Ministry of Education, it was in the knowledge that our recommendations reflect the community’s priorities regarding the needs of the students, and that this one-time money will be used. a tangible impact on our work to ensure they recover and succeed. (Unlike “District leaders embezzle pandemic relief funds,” Opinion Exchange, October 1.)
One of our greatest strengths as a school district stems from our relationships with essential partners who challenge us and serve as thoughtful partners in our work to provide a great education for every student. Our plan was shaped in large part by input from our Community Advisory Committee, a group of dedicated individuals representing a wide range of perspectives and constituencies. Committee members met with us in early spring and summer, and again in August. The Tribal Consultation, an online submission form on our website, and feedback from individuals and organizations who contacted me and my team directly all informed a plan that reflects the deep commitment to our students. that takes place across our community.
The health and safety of our students continues to be a priority for everyone. We will invest in improving air quality in school buildings, in personal protective equipment for our students and staff, and in additional guards to ensure classrooms are clean and safe.
To meet the unprecedented social, emotional and mental health needs of our students, we are increasing mental health supports and interventions in school and over the long term. New graduation coaches will help polyglot and American Indian students recover their credits and stay on track to graduation.
We will tackle the bus driver shortage nationwide by using funds to add recruitment incentives and bonuses. (Because we believe that every member of our staff deserves to earn a living wage, we have already increased the starting salary in 2019.)
And in an uncertain world where children and youth need stability more than ever, we are protecting 400 school staff positions that would otherwise be eliminated due to declining enrollment so we can maintain class sizes and programs. current.
While substantial and welcome, it’s important to remember that $ 159 million over three years is a fraction of MPS’s overall budget. These federal funds end in three years, which means that while the suggestions for staff increases and class size reductions are worth considering, the use of one-time funding to address them we leaves with positions that we cannot continue after funding ends.
We also realize that the power of new investment would be outweighed if it were forced to make cuts in other areas, which is why we have prioritized maintaining current staffing levels and programs.
We take seriously our responsibility to be transparent and accountable, so we have added new measures to make it easy for the public to track how these funds are being used and whether they are achieving the intended results.
And more importantly, because we know that the pandemic has had a disproportionately negative impact on certain groups of students, our plan goes well beyond the minimum requirements to devote funds to interventions and strategies designed to cope. the learning impacts of COVID-related disruptions on English learners, students with disabilities, young learners and students of color.
MPS is deeply grateful to the Minneapolis community for helping us find ways to capture and provide as much stability, security, and lifelong learning as possible for Minneapolis public school students.
Ed Graff is Principal of Minneapolis Public Schools.