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HARRISBURG, PA (July 9, 2021) – Pennsylvania school district leaders are deciding how to invest billions in American Rescue Plan funding into programs and initiatives to close learning gaps and address students’ mental health needs as the commonwealth emerges from the pandemic.
PSEA President Rich Askey today said it is absolutely imperative that educators and support professionals have a seat at the table as these important decisions are made.
“School districts are investing historic amounts of federal resources to close learning gaps and address the mental, social, and emotional needs of students,” Askey said. “As the law suggests, teachers, specialists, and support staff should be consulted by district leaders to develop innovative ways that schools can use these resources.
“Our educators are the experts. They have the experience and firsthand knowledge to help school leaders make the best possible choices about how to spend these federal dollars in their districts.”
Over the next several years, K-12 schools in Pennsylvania will receive nearly $5 billion from the American Rescue Plan. At least $1 billion is specifically targeted to intensify support and instruction for students who need extra help to get back on track with their learning. The remaining $4 billion can go toward supports for students and improving the safety and infrastructure of school buildings and facilities.
“Every dollar that flows to our schools through the American Rescue Plan should be targeted to help students and solve specific problems that have been exacerbated by the pandemic,” Askey said.
Askey noted that student and staff mental health and emotional well-being must also be a top priority.
“A focus on mental health and emotional well-being is not only important for the health of the student, it will also pay dividends for students’ academic achievement in the long run,” he said. “It’s much harder for students to excel when they are dealing with mental and emotional health issues.
“To address student wellness, districts should consider hiring more school nurses, counselors, psychologists, social workers, and other professionals who can help students work through trauma and other mental health consequences of this pandemic.”
Moving past this pandemic is not something that will happen overnight, but schools have a great opportunity to put students on a pathway to success, Askey added.
“The important thing is that we take this unprecedented federal investment in public education and use it to address the unprecedented educational challenges of this pandemic,” he said. “Educators and support professionals are ready to work alongside parents, families, and community members to develop programs that make the very best use of this funding and put students back on track.”
Askey is a Harrisburg music teacher and the president of PSEA. An affiliate of the National Education Association, PSEA represents about 178,000 active and retired educators and school employees, student teachers, higher education staff, and health care workers in Pennsylvania.