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Rescue Plan's Funds Can Help Students Catch Up

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Thursday, May 20, 2021   

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Pennsylvania schools will have some major federal help as they reopen their doors, and teachers want districts to use those dollars to focus on helping students catch up.

Over the next few years, schools in the Keystone State will have nearly $5 billion of federal aid from the American Rescue Plan to address disruptions to education caused by the pandemic. At least $1 billion is specifically targeted at intensifying support for students who need extra help to get back on track.

Rich Askey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said teachers need to have a seat at the table as districts decide how those federal dollars will be used.

"Educators are the experts," Askey asserted. "And they know best what schools need to do to bridge those student learning gaps and to bolster their mental, social, and emotional well-being."

He suggested those efforts should include summer learning and after-school programs as well as upgrading learning technology.

Askey pointed out after more than a year of relative isolation, individual students may be at very different places emotionally and may require extra help as classroom instruction returns to normal.

"We're going to need more school counselors and school nurses, psychologists and social workers," Askey contended. "Those positions that will support the students in the area of social and emotional health."

He added focusing on mental health and emotional well-being is not only important for student health, it also helps boost academic performance.

Schools will need to upgrade ventilation systems to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases, and they still need supplies of personal protective equipment. And Askey emphasized funds are needed to make sure every student has access to the learning tools they need.

"Purchasing educational technology including Wi-Fi hotspots and hardware such as laptops or tablets, and providing access to high-quality training for the staff," Askey outlined.

He noted school districts have a lot of flexibility in determining how to spend the American Rescue Plan funds, and have until Sep. 2024 to allocate the funding.

Disclosure: Pennsylvania State Education Association contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy and Priorities, Early Childhood Education, Education, and Livable Wages/Working Families. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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