Teachers’ Unions Hope to Join in ‘Rescue Fund’ Plans

By Andrea Sears, Pennsylvania News Service
for The Post

HARRISBURG PA – The state teachers’ union that represents a majority of educators working in western Montgomery, eastern Berks, and northern Chester counties’ school districts believe they should be included in discussions that consider how school boards will spend more than $32 million in “American Rescue Plan” federal funding already announced.

“Educators are the experts,” Pennsylvania State Education Association President Rich Askey contends, “and they know best what schools need to do” to bridge student learning gaps that resulted from coronavirus pandemic conditions. He believes teachers are positioned to suggest ways to bolster students’ “mental, social, and emotional well-being.”

Affiliated units of the Harrisburg-based association represent teachers in the Pottsgrove, Owen J. Roberts, Spring-Ford, Perkiomen Valley, Upper Perkiomen, Boyertown, and Phoenixville districts. Those and the Pottstown School District – whose educators are represented by the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers – are finishing or have already completed plans to use some “rescue” money in their 2021-2022 district budgets.

According to the state Education Department, Pottstown was due to receive the largest share – $9,741,181 – of the federal government’s more than $32 million local allocation. Also receiving funds (listed by amounts in decreasing order) are school districts for the Boyertown Area, $4,983,358; Spring-Ford Area, $4,355,676; Pottsgrove, $3,670,939; Phoenixville Area, $3,300,048; Owen J. Roberts, $2,834,045; Upper Perkiomen, $2,377,557; and Perkiomen Valley, $1,790,312.

During coming years, Pennsylvania schools are expected to benefit from nearly $5 billion in Rescue Plan aid intended to address pandemic-related learning disruptions. Of that, at least $1 billion is specifically targeted to intensify support for students who need extra help getting back on track. Districts “have a lot of flexibility” in determining how to spend the funds, and have until September 2024 to allocate them, according to Askey.

His preferences?

After more than a year of relative isolation, Askey says individual students may be at very different places emotionally and may require extra help as classroom instruction returns to normal. He suggests those efforts should include summer learning and after-school programs, as well as upgrading learning technology.

“We’re going to need more school counselors and school nurses, psychologists and social workers,” Askey claims. Focusing on mental health and emotional well-being is not only important for student health, it also helps boost academic performance, he adds.

Additionally, schools may need to upgrade ventilation systems to prevent virus and disease spread, increase supplies of personal protective equipment, and ensure every student can access necessary learning tools they need.

Disclosure: Pennsylvania State Education Association contributes to a Public News Service fund for reporting on budget policy and priorities, early childhood education, education, and livable wages and working families.

Photo by Jack F via Adobe Stock, supplied by the Public News Service