Keith Catone is Executive Director of the Center for Youth & Community Leadership in Education at Roger Williams University and Education Ambassador for the Partnership for the Future of Learning.
Rhode Island is eligible to receive more than $ 415 million for public schools from the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. This has made many legislators and the educational community question how to avoid creating unsustainable programs in schools.
While this is a good question, it overshadows a larger one: How can we use the funds to develop sustainable processes that will change our culture and our educational practices? Right now we have a huge opportunity to change the school for the better. We cannot choose to keep the same schools and have more.
This influx of federal funds provides us with opportunities for engagement, research and planning to build public systems that are more equitable and specific to the needs of those who use them.
Over a year ago, author and educator Bettina Love told an audience of teachers, “We can’t go back to where things were. We know that the way our school systems worked before the pandemic was not serving high needs populations and students of color, so we need to fundamentally change how our education systems work.
We must invest ESSER funds in systemic changes that will make our schools anti-racist, student and family-centered, partnership-oriented and democratically accountable, regardless of the curriculum. These are the “enabling conditions” described in the Rhode Island Department of Education’s Learning, Equity, and Pathways Task Force (LEAP) report.
This means that schools should evolve towards a deep commitment to partnership and engagement with youth and families, prioritizing their needs and wants in their schools and investing in their ideas and leadership. While many schools already hold community meetings for general feedback and feedback, a more open process to the public reaching out to those most affected to find solutions and ideas will result in the most meaningful programs and practices. .
These funds do not need to be spent immediately. In fact, we have at least three years to use them. So let’s not rush and instead use them wisely. RIDE can set expectations and advice on the most effective forms of stakeholder engagement to foster the “enabling conditions” named in the LEAP Working Group recommendations.
Investing in the leadership of community members to generate ideas is a powerful way to reshape education to be more equitable and effective. Helping districts take a leap of faith and follow a less traveled path means doubling equity at a time when equity-based education has been chosen as a container for ongoing cultural wars.
Programs do not bring about systemic change, do not always produce results, and can be difficult to sustain over time without ongoing funding, but processes and structures are at the heart of systemic change. The processes are cyclical, renewable and can be autonomous.
We need to focus on investing in new processes and structures, reimagining the way we do school, or we will waste federal funding and the opportunity before us.