Guest Column

Education stimulus funds should restore what children lost

By , Guest Columnist Updated: May 05, 2020 6:38 AM CT | Published: May 05, 2020 4:00 AM CT
Guest Columnist

Terri C. Harris

Terri C. Harris is president of Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence. She is a former Shelby County PTA president and currently practices law in the area of education, protecting the legal and civil rights of students. 

Parents have watched COVID-19 rob our children of so much. Our kids miss their teachers, their friends and their routines. We mourn the loss of so many activities that traditionally take place during the final few weeks of school — field trips, proms, awards ceremonies, spring concerts, musicals, sports, academic competitions, and so many other wonderful end-of-the-year events.

Tennessee expects $260M in federal stimulus funds for schools

And we worry about our school family. Are they sick, well, lonely, fearful?

With these concerns in mind, the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) and Gov. Bill Lee should use federal stimulus money to restore our children and their schools back to the position they were in prior to March 20, 2020.

Now is not the time for disruptive pet projects and windfalls for contract vendors.

<strong>Terri C. Harris</strong>

Terri C. Harris

Recently, a TDOE survey caused a whiplash of concern among parents over misleading questions and limited choices geared toward summer school and extended school days. It asked stakeholders about options to make up for lost school days, though the governor had waived the 180 school day requirement when he recommended school closure. 

The outrage led to an abrupt survey change. Overnight, a new survey appeared focusing exclusively on virtual instruction.

At the same time, TDOE released its “Best for All” response to COVID-19 revealing Commissioner Penny Schwinn’s plan to develop “a robust digital platform and technology plan for remote learning and remediation, including curriculum and PD [Professional Development].” Chiefs for Change complimented Schwinn’s plan as “bold and visionary” in a recent Education Week article.

The article explained Schwinn’s three-year plan to retool the school year calendar with a mix of in-person and online learning including “a surge of 20 days of learning over the summer” and “a more robust digital infrastructure.”

While the article was subsequently edited to remove those remarks, the re-writes just exacerbate the lack of transparency around Schwinn’s intention to use relief money on vendors providing virtual learning services.

As parents, we know computer screens will never adequately replace classroom learning. And we have questions about the harm caused by lost instructional time. Teachers have assured us that students were taught most, if not all, standards before schools closed.

And, we are OK with skipping the “show what you know” test this year. Seriously, has there ever been a successful administration of TNReady in its entire history? What is one more year of no TNReady?

The truly important things our kids are missing have nothing to do with testing and can never be made-up through virtual learning. We mourn the loss of graduation ceremonies, band trips, class parties, school dances and our relationships with our school friends.

The federal COVID 19 stimulus package allows for more than making up lost instructional time and testing. It provides funding for our schools to remain operational, prepare school buildings for a safe re-opening, and pay school support personnel so they will be there when school starts again.

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Tennessee Department of Education Penny Schwinn COVID-19 recovery


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