Column: Here’s what schools need during COVID-19 and beyond

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As we begin to reimagine K-12 education in a post-COVID-19 world, it is imperative we use research to guide our decisions to help all students achieve and succeed. Just as research should inform public health policy, it should guide our decisions as we enter a new normal that could include in-person learning, remote learning or a hybrid of both. 

Across the board, research has reached the same conclusion: Michigan’s schools are woefully underfunded, and more resources are needed to serve unique student needs. This is particularly true for students of color, English Language Learners, students with special needs, and those living in poverty.

Numerous reputable, bipartisan commissions and coalitions have studied the adequacy of Michigan’s K-12 school funding approach. It should be noted equitable funding does not mean equal funding — it means funding for each child according to their individual educational needs. A few examples of recent school funding studies include:  

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We know, from these reports and other research, that: 

  • Michigan’s school funding approach is fundamentally broken.
  • More school counselors, social workers and psychologists are needed to address student mental, emotional and academic needs. This will be critical amid the COVID-19 pandemic.  
  • Smaller classes, especially in pre-K and lower elementary grades, improve student success.
  • Universal, high-quality pre-kindergarten programs make a lifelong difference in student success.
  • Community schools, which partner with public resources, can lead to improved student learning, stronger families and healthier communities. 
  • Properly staffed school media centers, with certified media specialists who teach responsible use of digital resources, help improve student achievement, particularly for students living in poverty. 

Enacting these reforms amid COVID-19 will require a renewed investment in Michigan’s public schools, which have been shortchanged for the last quarter century.

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A few things have become clear as schools plan to reopen. 

There will need to be fewer children in classrooms, lunchrooms, playgrounds and halls once students return to school. Schools must implement enhanced sanitation practices and perhaps more bus runs. These are all costly services and programs, and must be fully addressed to ensure the health and safety of all students. 

The digital divide is real and must be eliminated. Public Policy Associates estimates that over 400,000 Michigan students lack access to online instructional technology. 

Verified research should be the guiding light in safely reopening Michigan’s schools. It is now up to policymakers to adopt a new school funding approach that serves the needs of all students during the current public health crisis and beyond. 

We owe our kids nothing less.