Some COVID plans waste relief money. Here’s how Kansas City can really help its kids

·3 min read

Now here’s a federal program for spending COVID-19 relief dollars we wholeheartedly support: pairing school children with adult mentors and tutors to help K-12 students who have fallen behind academically during the pandemic.

This week, the Biden administration launched an effort to recruit 250,000 mentors and tutors over the next three years to help students make up lost ground caused when the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to close. Schools shifted to online learning, which did not work well for many children and disproportionately hurt low-income students and those with special needs.

Students fell two to four months behind in reading and math during the pandemic on average, according to a Biden administration news release announcing the campaign.

“Research shows that high quality tutors and mentors positively impact student achievement, well-being, and overall success,” the White House statement said.

Biden set aside more than $122 billion dollars in COVID-19 rescue funds to help schools safely reopen and deal with the consequences of the pandemic, including learning loss, increased depression and anxiety. Biden called on schools to use the federal money to provide “high quality tutoring, summer learning, and enrichment and after school programs,” to help put students back on track.

The program will be led by AmeriCorps, a national service organization, and the Department of Education to fill these school positions over the next three years.

It’s a great example of how that federal aid should be spent, and we need to see it happen here.

In Kansas City, schools already used mentors and tutors for students before the pandemic, but the threat of coronavirus prevented them from meeting in person. Many volunteers in Kansas City have not returned to schools. So yes, schools need more help in getting folks to step up and connect with students.

Schools seem to be spending COVID-19 money well so far. Kansas City Public Schools paired pandemic relief dollars with other federal funding to use professional reading and math specialists as well as family liaison specialists in all its schools. That move was a direct attempt to deal with academic losses in this post-COVID-19 world. And for KCPS, which only this year regained state accreditation status, such extra work is crucial.

And like other area school districts, KCPS also has used pandemic funding for building upgrades, including improved air filtration systems. Children learn better when their school buildings are well-maintained, healthy and comfortable environments.

“Our kids deserve that,” said Elle Moxley, district spokesperson. “That money is a blessing.”

We know the temptation to use these funds for non-academic purposes has affected other municipalities. In 2020, Overland Park wanted to use $350,000 in CARES Act money to install cameras at a soccer field so games could be watched remotely. The city scrapped the plan after a public outcry.

What better way is there to support and raise up a community than by putting money toward improving the education of its schoolchildren?

Every school district needs to avail itself of these COVID-19 rescue funds for mentoring and tutoring programs that not only boost student academic performance, but also can improve kids’ mental and emotional health.

At this critical juncture, with our communities still dealing with the twin crises of the pandemic and inflation, our children can only benefit from the increased resources available to school districts.

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