From the quiet hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our great nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram.
Arkansas students, parents and teachers are about to begin the most challenging school year in our state’s history.
Large numbers of children will stay home and take virtual classes. Students who physically attend classes will have to adapt to a host of safety measures, such as wearing masks and maintaining social distances.
Staff will clean and sanitize classrooms, bathrooms and school buses much more frequently. Teachers who have spent their career in a classroom will have to adjust to online learning.
One official at the state Education Department said every teacher in Arkansas must approach this school year as they have just graduated from college and it is their first time in the classroom. Adding to the challenge is the lack of standardized test results that indicate which areas students need to focus on.
Students were not able to take end-of-year assessments in the spring. Those tests are the foundation that teachers rely on when planning classwork for individual students.
In a typical year, teachers take into account the so-called “summer slide.” It’s normal for students to forget some of what they learned the previous school year.
It likely will be worse at the beginning of this school year, because schools closed in the spring and students spent a much longer period away from the classroom.
Many students continued their classwork online. However, much of their homework was a review of what they had already learned earlier in the year. In many school districts, new materials were not introduced.
Teachers will have to spend more time than usual preparing lesson plans that correspond to each student’s achievement level.
The state is doing all it can to provide resources, from protective equipment to cleaning supplies to new technology.
More than $10 million will be spent on Wi-Fi devices so students and their families can access the Internet.
About $6 million has be used for protective equipment for schools. The state Education Department has set aside another one million dollars for a stockpile of supplies that will be sent to schools as needed throughout the year.
Even with all the precautions and preparations, schools have to plan for occurrences of the coronavirus. If students or teachers contract the virus, the decision to close a school or a district will be made with input from local school board members, as well as state education and public health experts.
The legislature has prioritized our investment in education. We appropriated more than $3 billion on schools last year, to educate almost 480,000 children who were taught by more than 33,000 teachers.
Public education is the largest single category in the state’s general revenue budget, with 44 cents of every dollar being spent on schools from kindergarten through grade 12.
It will take more than money to solve the problems facing our students this year. It will take a commitment from elected officials, business leaders, families, churches and civic groups.
The good thing is that Arkansans don’t back down from a challenge, and we’re not afraid of hard work.
Our schools are facing unique challenges, but with help and support from all of us, we can make this a successful school year.
From the Capitol, it is always my greatest honor and most sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Senator Keith Ingram.