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Opinion: “We shouldn’t consistently expect educators to do more with less”

Photo+by+Helena+Gruensteidl.
Justin Hayworth
Photo by Helena Gruensteidl.

By Ivy Schuster

Funding is still the single most important factor when supporting our children’s education, but it is not the only issue. At a recent panel on challenges and opportunities in Iowa education hosted by the Ivy Schuster for Iowa Senate campaign, school administrators, educators and a local parent informed the campaign and the audience that we should do more. Needs include mental health resources, diversity and inclusion practices, and workers’ rights for educators.

Many rural areas in Iowa have been identified as lacking in mental health resources. This is felt every day in our local schools. According to Williamsburg Superintendent Chad Garber, there is “greater interest in the impact that trauma [and toxic stress] has on learning” than in previous years. Research on these topics could help inform decision making in schools to better serve students in need. On top of this, we continue to put more pressure on children at a younger age. Mindy McClintock, president of Vinton-Shellsburg Education Association and P.E. teacher, summarized the changes from her time in education concerning what a kindergartener needs to know: “academically we have evolved, but socially, we have not.” I support fully funding the children’s behavioral health system. To take it a step further, I would like to see mental health early intervention services in our schools.

It is past time for us to address the experiences of students of color within our educational system. Jennie Jackson, a Grinnell parent who has been advocating for regular training for educators on diversity and implicit bias, noted that such training could help improve that experience. Educators and administrators agreed that additional education, training, and resources are critical. Parents of students of color have been carrying the burden to encourage these improvements for a long time; it is time to make a meaningful change at the local and state level. I support increased focus and funding at the state level to offer training about implicit bias, recommendations to diversify the curriculum, and recruitment of diverse candidates.

Panelists all agreed that a major immediate issue is the decision that schools are facing based on the Coronavirus. “One thing that COVID-19 has shown…is how central public schools are to how the economy works,” says Grinnell social studies teacher Todd Crites. He also identified schools as being “a critical part of making sure that [students] have the nutrition they need to grow.” According to Garber, through this pandemic, educators have gotten to better know the families in their district and the needs and challenges that they face. Technology has made teaching and learning from home possible, but many Iowans lack access to reliable internet service. Many questions have not yet been answered about what education might look like in the fall. Due to changes to collective bargaining made by the legislature recently, educators have less say about working conditions during this upcoming school year. I support the fight for collective bargaining restoration for our educators.

There is a steep cost to not funding our public schools. Between 1973-2011, the increase in education funding kept up with inflation in all but six years. However, in the past 10 out of 11 years, funding for education has failed to keep up with inflation. This does not meet the demand of constant changes in education. We shouldn’t consistently expect educators to do more with less. As needs change, school districts depend on the legislative budget to make necessary adjustments in their district. I support policies and appropriate resources to match the actual needs of our students and educators.

To view the recording of the education panel discussion, visit Ivy for Iowa on Facebook. The next panel, on the environment, will be held Thursday, July 23 at 7 p.m.

Ivy Schuster is the Democratic candidate for State Senate District 38.

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