Larry Delaney, Janie White: Educational System Stretched Beyond Capacity Fails Students
Writing for the Seattle Times, the president and vice-president of the Washington Education Association speak about the stressors on schools.
Educators are not OK. And while this may not be breaking news, it has reached a level where our communities can no longer ignore it and we need to do something. Staffing-related school closures are impacting families and educators are leaving the profession, frustrated and burned out. All of this falls on students, who will not get the quality education they deserve. This is all avoidable.
COVID-19 has put our public education system under a microscope, and while COVID-related challenges are new, the systems that create those challenges are not. Our students have long gone without the mental and physical health supports they need, but now the needs are exacerbated by the trauma of a pandemic. Our students have long lacked adequate access to school nurses, but now those nurses are taking on COVID-related duties along with their usual work, spreading them even thinner.
The substitute and paraeducator shortage is also not new. Substitutes are expected to have a bachelor’s degree, the pay is low and most do not receive benefits. Yet, they’re essential to our students having what they need to learn, whether that’s one-on-one support, transportation, nutrition or other services. It should be no surprise that recruiting substitutes and paraeducators is hard, and getting more challenging in our tight labor market.
The sub and paraeducator shortage is having cascading impacts on our students. Specialists like English Language Learner teachers or reading and math interventionists are being called in to teach classes, leaving their students without needed supports. Teachers are being asked to cover additional classes during their planning periods and breaks, and then spend more time after hours grading and preparing lessons, all while being told to remember to practice self-care. This all adds up to a system stretched beyond capacity.
State funding is woefully inadequate in each of these situations. Our school funding formula fails to provide enough school nurses, psychologists, social workers, mental health professionals and counselors to meet students’ growing needs. The antiquated state funding model forces districts, particularly in low-income areas, to make difficult decisions about what supports they can afford to provide for students.
Let’s not fool ourselves, though. The system is working exactly as designed.