Arlington, VA

Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

School divisions and local governments in the region and across the country are providing child care while students are learning online.

These programs recognize that many parents cannot work from home and that low-income students in particular benefit from the adult supervision, help with technology, and food provided.

For example, Fairfax County Public Schools provides full-day child care at 37 school sites with fees based on income that are as low as $80 per month. Loudoun County is offering child care at 11 elementary schools and two additional sites for a fee, with a 50% discount for students enrolled in the Free and Reduced Meals program. The City of San Francisco has 50 sites providing free child care to 700 students, with space for up to 2,000 students.

Here in Arlington, no Arlington Public Schools (APS) sites or Arlington County Government sites have opened for child care during the pandemic.

County officials are studying the issue.

“The County has been exploring multiple options for care for school-aged children with APS and non-profit partners, with the initial priority being at-risk children,” according to a statement that Deputy County Manager Michelle Cowan recently provided to ARLnow.

One option is a program to begin in October that would provide child care free of charge for 50 children, ages 4-11, at one APS location.

During the last school year, 4,402 Arlington elementary school students were eligible for free or reduced price meals, according to the Virginia Department of Education. The need for child care is much greater than 50 students.

Arlington officials should quickly assess how many spaces are needed for child care and expand availability for low-income children. Such an assessment is underway in Alexandria, which has created the Alexandria Emergency Child Care Collaborative.

The need for child care is driven not only by increased demand with students learning at home, but also by reduced supply caused by the closure of many private day care facilities due to the pandemic. Arlington County’s interactive map of private child care centers shows those that are closed and how few slots are available in the ones that remain open. Tuition charged at many private facilities are cost-prohibitive for low-income families.

There are many challenges to opening new child care facilities. These include identifying appropriate locations, staffing, and transportation; addressing licensing requirements and the health and safety of the participants; establishing eligibility requirements; and funding.

Other jurisdictions have addressed these challenges and have opened child care facilities for those most in need.

The need will continue, even as APS begins to bring students back to school for some in-person learning. The APS plan provides for some students with disabilities to return to school in October; additional students in November; and all students who chose a hybrid learning model starting in December. But the hybrid model has students learning from home more than they are at school. Child care still will be needed as this phased return to school is implemented.

Arlington County’s Child Care Initiative (CCI) was created in 2017, bringing together those in the public and private sectors with a goal to improve the affordability, availability, and quality of child care, recognizing that child care “is a key component of a thriving, diverse community.”

A fall 2019 CCI report notes that changes have been made to zoning ordinances and that “red tape” has been reduced, to help meet the CCI’s goals.

Addressing the need for child care as a result of the pandemic should be a top priority. CCI, Arlington County government, and APS need to continue to cut through red tape, work together, and provide quality child care for Arlington’s low-income families.

Abby Raphael served on the Arlington School Board from 2008-2015, including two terms as Chair. She also led the Washington Area Boards of Education for two years. Currently she co-chairs the Destination 2027 Steering Committee, is a member of the Board of the Arlington YMCA, and works with Project Peace, the Community Progress Network, and Second Chance.

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Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Since APS announced its decision to begin this school year 100% remotely, many parents and perhaps students – maybe even a few teachers – have been anticipating a disastrous start, if not a disastrous year.

We’re closing out week two of the distance learning year. Despite some significant technological issues and individual challenges adjusting to the new format, it has not been the initial overarching catastrophe many predicted.

For our family, our first day’s glitches were all rather quickly resolved. Admittedly, our middle schooler is using a personal laptop rather than the school-issued iPad. (Yes, I read your message, Dr. Duran; and I understand that you are encouraging all students to use the APS-issued device. But this time, we’re going rogue. Even if our middle schooler had never experienced the consistent connectivity issues with the iPad over the past two years, we prefer an actual keyboard and a larger screen for working a full year online. But the fact that it’s time APS swapped out middle school iPads for laptops is another discussion.)

While APS’ technology staff continues to manage the logistics of distance learning, the rest of us need to monitor distance learning itself. To that end, APS should immediately establish (yet another) working group or committee to monitor and collect feedback, data, and other information about academic, social, psychological, and technological matters through the duration of this school year.

Teachers, administrators, parents/guardians, students, school psychologists and counselors, and activities directors should all be represented.  A simple and easy way for people to comment and share personal experiences as they occur during the year is essential. The information gathered would guide decisions and improvements as the year progresses, as well as fuel planning and applying  lessons learned for future instruction when teachers and students ultimately return to the classroom full time.

We should strive to learn about such things as:

  • Effectiveness of APS and PTA communications and ways to improve it;
  • Impacts of distance learning on social dynamics and sense of community within and among schools;
  • How to manage the technical aspects of distance learning and teaching;
  • New skills and additional tools for teachers to reach and inspire every single student;
  • Which students are most successful with which methods of learning (online v. in person v. combination), why, and how to provide top quality programs to best serve each beyond the pandemic; and
  • Developing consistency in policies, curriculum, and instruction across schools.

Two particularly valuable lessons may be in the areas of how to excite students about learning, whether in-person or virtual, and the role of technology in education.

To prepare for remote teaching, teachers have had to redesign their curriculum for a whole new format and will hopefully continually improve their skills and techniques over the course of the year.  As my husband attests, teaching a college-level course in a classroom is very different from teaching it online. That phenomenon applies even more so to preschool – 12 education.

It requires different ways of presenting material and new skills for “reading” students, to elicit their participation, to motivate and draw out the best from each one. Mental health professionals face challenges as they meet with patients online where engagement is often lower or in-person with masks which obscure the facial expressions vital to contextualizing and interpreting comments and reactions – things trained professionals rely on in order to help their patients. Teachers use facial cues, student participation, and class behavior in the same way.

This year will offer ongoing opportunities to consider how students learn, what makes a teacher effective, and new ideas for the context of the traditional classroom experience. A major factor in teaching this year – and another key matter for APS and a committee to consider – is the role of educational technology.

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Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

While elementary and secondary school students across the country adjust to full-time distance learning, adults have been learning online for years.

Online courses offer adults the flexibility to continue their education while working and taking care of families. Some enroll in these courses to learn new job skills and expand their employment opportunities. Others are lifelong learners who enjoy studying the arts, literature, language, history and a myriad of other subjects offered online.

During the pandemic, these courses can be particularly helpful to adults. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. unemployment rate in July was 10.2 percent. Acquiring new skills will be critical in helping adults get back to work.

Another consequence of the pandemic is social isolation. While online courses do not provide the same connections as in-person learning, they do offer adults the opportunity to be creative and interact with those with similar interests. Many courses are synchronous, with students logging on at a specified time and participating in a live class.

Other courses are asynchronous, with students listening to pre-recorded lectures at their convenience. This includes Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), taken by millions of people across the world.

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Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

News articles and social media chatter are inundated with information and discussion about back-to-school plans for this fall.

Arlington Public Schools has decided that all students will begin the 2020-2021 school year virtually. Teachers have spent much of their summer vacation working to convert their in-class instruction to virtual formats and are “heading back to the classroom” next week for training and final preparations to begin the year.

Most reports and discussions focus on such issues as the safety or logistics of returning to the classroom, the quality of virtual instruction, and screen time. One will also find frequent expressions of concern about the socioemotional well-being of students, yet one will struggle to find many specific ideas for addressing students’ social needs outside the virtual classroom or the role extracurricular clubs can play despite school buildings being closed.

Fortunately, sports leagues have made decisions regarding organized athletics and APS is currently considering guidelines for other extracurricular clubs and student activities. How — or if — a club will proceed likely depends upon the nature of the club as well as the determination of the club leaders to make it happen. Knowing that teachers — who comprise the majority of club sponsors — are rightfully focused on planning and training for the virtual classroom, parents and students could use this time to turn their attention toward ways to adapt clubs for a socially distanced school year. Students may have some of the best and most creative ideas as to how to transform their traditional group into an active, community-strengthening, pandemic-era extracurricular activity.

This new environment may provide an opportunity for community organizations or private business enterprises to become more involved in schools or for individual families to form groups among themselves for their own children. However, it is important to continue offering accessible, free, school-based extracurricular opportunities for students. Organized sports are a primary driver of school pride; but extracurricular clubs and activities expand the number of students engaged outside the classroom. They bring students together, build friendships, form memories, spark passions and careers, and help shape the school community’s character, spirit, and sense of school pride.

Given the likelihood that any club or activity will begin the year virtually like everything else, this is the perfect time to take inventory of existing clubs at each school, begin visioning how these groups will function this coming year, and consider potential new groups.

If there are clubs at one school that do not exist at another, consideration should be given to opening membership to students at other schools where a similar club may not be offered and how those students can continue to participate upon returning to an in-person school schedule. Merging clubs from different schools can foster a broader sense of community. Joining forces may increase participation or even strengthen the impact of some clubs such as those with a community service or environmental focus. At the same time, opening membership or joining forces can help chip away a bit of the opportunity disparities across the district.

It is often left to students to recruit members and solicit a sponsor to create a club. To ensure the clubs they are interested in will be offered this coming year students should:

  1. Consider ways to publicize the club and recruit members, appeal to administration and solicit potential teachers to sponsor them;
  2. Think creatively about ways to adapt club activities, meetings, and publicity efforts within a modified format to ensure members are engaged and the club remains active;
  3. Offer and solicit ideas for new clubs or activities.

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Ed Talk: Learning Pods

Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

As the school year begins online for students across the country, parents face the challenge of supporting the educational needs of their children while working at their own jobs.

This challenge is real for all working parents. But the opportunities that parents have to meet their children’s needs vary greatly depending on socio-economic status.

Some families with sufficient financial resources are turning to learning pods.  These are small groups of students who will gather in homes or rented spaces with an adult who is paid to supervise them while learning online. Some pods will be led by teachers.

An internet search of  “learning pods” reveals many companies that will create pods and provide adults to supervise and/or teach. The websites for these companies offer pods for pre-kindergarten through grade 12, with two students to nine students per pod. Schedules can be five days per week, half-day or full-day.

The cost?  One website provides a pod for students in grades K-4, Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. with one educator at a cost of $4,583 per month per child for a three-student pod and $1,528 per month per child for a nine-student pod.

There certainly are benefits for those who can afford learning pods. For students, an adult can provide in-person assistance with their education in a small group setting. And interaction with peers promotes social-emotional learning. Parents benefit too, because they can work inside or outside the home while their children are engaged in distance learning.

But students from low-income families who cannot afford the pod fees are left out. They cannot benefit from a paid teacher in the home to enhance their distance learning and they miss out on in-person interaction with other students. Their parents may have to choose between giving up their jobs outside the home and going to work and leaving their children home alone.

Parents in Arlington, like those around the country, are forming learning pods. One website helps parents connect for free and a local company creates pods with an initial fee and monthly costs.

Long before COVID-19, significant disparities in academic outcomes existed between groups of students in Arlington. These disparities will grow with months of distance learning and the disparate opportunities that students have at home depending on their socio-economic status.

In his Back to School Update during the School Board’s July 30th meeting, Arlington Public Schools (APS) Superintendent Dr. Francisco Duran stated that APS is working with Arlington County Government and community partners to address the need for childcare for families while APS provides distance learning.

Arlington might look to the city of San Francisco, which has committed to opening 40 community learning hubs in September.  These will be located at recreation centers, libraries, and non-profit sites, providing full-day supervision for low-income students. Each hub will have access to technology for distance learning, enrichment activities, and meals.

In addition, APS should develop a plan for in-person instruction focused on students most in need. Such an approach is consistent with APS summer school, which is being offered online this summer for elementary students who need strengthening in math and literacy and secondary students who received low grades last school year.

Before APS opted for distance learning this fall for all students, the APS hybrid learning plan offered in-person learning two days a week. If social distancing is required when APS opens schools again, instead of limited, in-person instruction for all students, APS should offer in-person instruction for more hours for students most in need. This includes low-income students who have not had the benefit of small group instruction in learning pods.

Abby Raphael served on the Arlington School Board from 2008-2015, including two terms as Chair. She also led the Washington Area Boards of Education for two years. Currently she co-chairs the Destination 2027 Steering Committee, is a member of the Board of the Arlington YMCA, and works with Project Peace, the Community Progress Network, and Second Chance.

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Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

It is increasingly important in today’s world of global interaction and social media that our youth have the tools they need to thoughtfully discern their individual beliefs and political positions.

While Webster’s dictionary simplistically defines “education” as “the field of study that deals mainly with methods of teaching and learning in schools,” this definition from dictiontary.com better reflects what we need from our educational institutions today: “the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.”

To build and maintain a strong democracy, public education in a democratic society should both impart a breadth of knowledge to students and teach them to become independent thinkers. Arlington Public Schools should ensure the “acquiring general knowledge” and “developing the powers of reasoning and judgment” aspects of education by:

  • Building upon existing practices for teaching or incorporating “media intelligence” to help students discern the sources of social media posts and the credibility and biases of information they find online or read in print;
  • Implementing a curriculum that includes general social media use, political use of social media, analysis of political campaign tactics, and international influences;
  • Renewing the emphasis on civics and elevating its importance in the required curriculum;
  • Requiring debate classes and/or the incorporation of more debate-style assignments and activities that require students to understand, explain, and defend opposing positions on a range of topics;
  • Ensuring an atmosphere of inclusion and an environment that does not politicize opinions or surround students with only one set of political positions.

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Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Last week, as our nation celebrated Independence Day, protests continued across America for racial equity and justice. The dissonance between the promise of the Declaration of Independence — that all are created equal with the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — and the failure to live up to that promise, has a long history.

In a speech on July 5, 1852, abolitionist Frederick Douglass praised the founding fathers. He also laid bare the simple truth that slaves, as well as free Black people like him, did not have the rights that the framers declared, saying:

I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me.

These words, uttered 168 years ago, ring true today.

The “immeasurable distance” between whites and Black people in 1852 persists in the disparities we see in 2020 in education, employment, health, wealth, criminal justice, and more.

To make progress in eliminating these disparities, we must better educate all students about Black history and current events.

In recent comments, Virginia’s Secretary of Education, Atif Qarni, made clear that Virginia has more work to do on this front: “We talk about freedom and justice and spreading democracy throughout the world. I would argue that a lot of those principles came from the struggles of African Americans throughout our history, and that history is not being told in our classrooms.”

Qarny is a member of Virginia’s Commission on African American History Education, which was created to improve the teaching of African American history. The Executive Order creating the Commission also calls for a new high school elective course on African American history, to be offered online through Virtual Virginia starting this fall.

An initial outline of that course includes a comprehensive study of history, literature, the arts, race and racism. This course will benefit the students who choose to take it. In addition, all students should learn Black history by including it across academic disciplines. Students should read Black authors in their language arts classes. They should study the contributions that Black Americans have made to the arts, mathematics, and science in those classes. And their history and government classes should include more focus on the centuries-old struggle for racial equity and justice.

The history of slavery, segregation, and discrimination makes many uncomfortable and ashamed. That not everyone enjoys the same rights and opportunities today is not easy to discuss. Acknowledging this history and our current reality, and discussing these in classrooms, are critical to real learning. Learning can lead to change.

In his 1852 speech, Douglass found hope in the principles of the Declaration of Independence, even while urging the country to acknowledge the injustice of slavery: “The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed…”

Decades later, Langston Hughes wrote about patriotism, resilience, and hope in the face of segregation his 1926 poem, which begins, “I, too, sing America.” Though sent “to eat in the kitchen when company comes,” Hughes says that tomorrow, “I’ll be at the table.” And, “They’ll see how beautiful I am and be ashamed.” His poem concludes, “I, too, am America.”

Recognizing that Black history is American history, and teaching it effectively, can help this country make progress in realizing Hughes’ vision of a more equitable and just America.

Abby Raphael served on the Arlington School Board from 2008-2015, including two terms as Chair. She also led the Washington Area Boards of Education for two years. Currently she co-chairs the Project Peace Prevention Committee and Destination 2027 Steering Committee, is a member of the Board of the Arlington YMCA, and works with the Community Progress Network and Second Chance

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Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

APS parents are known for their engagement on issues with the School Board.  But why should parents direct their attention to the County Board?

The most obvious answer is because APS relies on the County for its funding. However, the County’s independent priorities and policies affect not just APS’ budget, but also its policies and decisions.

It is, therefore, in the County Board’s interest to understand the needs of its school system and community. County Board members should recognize the challenges APS faces and understand how it operates and uses its resources. They should appreciate and acknowledge how its own policies and decisions (housing, transportation, land use, zoning, “community benefits” from developers, bike trails, sidewalks, bond allocations, etc.) impact APS’ resources, how efficiently it can use those resources, and the resulting types of services and quality of education APS delivers.

APS parents should be just as concerned about County Board candidates’ positions on issues as they are about candidates for school board. With a special election to fill Erik Gutshall’s County Board seat upon us, now is the time for voters to ask themselves some questions they may not typically consider when voting for County Board:

  • How well do County Board members understand our school system, the expectations placed on Arlington public education today, and how school and County issues relate to each other?
  • Do they understand the effects of development, housing policy, and land use decisions on individual school enrollments, transportation and boundary policies, and APS’ ability to provide equitable and inclusive learning environments?
  • How will their positions impact school crowding; or how attendance zones can be drawn; or the instruction that can be implemented; or how employees can be compensated; or accessibility of school facilities for staff, substitute teachers, parents, volunteers, and even community members attending events and using facilities?
  • Do they have ideas about ways the County can partner with APS in providing supportive services (such as childcare or preschool, after-school enrichment, mental health services, transportation, etc.) so that APS can devote more of its budget and attention to academics and instruction?

The argument that only 20% of Arlington residents have children in the schools has grown tiresome. The fact is, far more than 20% of Arlington residents have had, have, or will have children in Arlington Public Schools. Furthermore, every resident is affected by the quality and reputation of Arlington’s school system and the resources it uses from the County’s coffers – whether in the form of property values, available amenities, quality of public services, or by inefficient delivery systems unnecessarily diverting money from other community needs and desires.

School and County Board members differ on even the most fundamental matters, such as the urgency of issues APS is facing due to demographic shifts in Arlington. A friend said recently, “Denial is bad public policy.” It is time for County Board members to stop denying the challenges APS and parents tell them they are confronting. The two boards do not have to see eye-to-eye, but it is not County Board members’ role to determine schools don’t need expensive parking because they prefer to encourage alternative transit, or that APS does not need more land or buildings because education will look different in the future. APS has 28,000 students to educate now, and Arlington is not the progressive city with the sophisticated public transit system the County likes to believe it is.

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Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam issued detailed guidance this week for the phased reopening of schools. Because each of the three phases includes six-foot social distancing in school and on buses, Arlington Public Schools (APS) will have to provide a hybrid model of education this fall, with limited in-person instruction, combined with online learning.

The Governor’s guidance for instruction is as follows:

  • Phase I – continues remote learning and allows in-person instruction for students with disabilities;
  • Phase II – adds limited in-person instruction for preschool through third grade and English learner students; and
  • Phase III – allows in-person instruction for all students, with new content taught.

While the timing of moving through these phases is not explicit, it appears that Phase II is intended for summer school and Phase III is anticipated for the fall.

APS class sizes are too large for social distancing. A recent report of the American Federation of Teachers on school reopening states that classes should have 12-15 students to maintain recommended social distancing. The APS 2019-20 Class Size Report shows average class sizes of 22 students for elementary schools, 21 students for middle schools, and 20 students for high schools.

APS does not have enough buses to maintain social distancing for students who ride the bus. An APS presentation on school opening estimates that school bus capacity will be reduced by 75% with social distancing. Given that more than 65% of students ride the bus, ridership would be cut from 18,942 students to 4,736 students in the fall, based on projected fall enrollment of 29,142 students.

Recognizing the impact of social distancing, the Governor’s guidelines offer sample school schedules for Phase III, with students attending school physically one or two full days per week, half-days four days per week, or two to three days per week every other week.

APS must determine how many hours per week each student can attend school for in-person education considering Arlington’s student enrollment, square footage of classrooms, and bus capacity. An additional consideration is the effect of COVID-19 on the APS workforce and how many teachers and staff will request to work remotely because of health considerations.

Another factor affecting the number of hours available for in-person instruction is the APS budget. The School Board’s adopted FY 2021 budget slashed expenditures by $55.6 million, compared with the interim Superintendent’s proposed budget. The budget lacks funding for more buses and drivers or for more teachers to reduce class sizes. In fact, the budget increases class sizes by one at each grade level, for a savings of $4.9 million.

Phase III school reopening in Arlington could have all students return to school for significantly reduced hours per week, or it could allocate the limited resource of in-person education in a different way.

The Governor’s guidance has a focus on equity and identifies “vulnerable” students who should receive targeted attention.  These include young learners, English learners, students with disabilities, those at risk of not moving to the next grade level or not graduating, and students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds.

APS Superintendent Dr. Francisco Duran has convened a task force of parents, teachers, students and citizens to advise him in developing the APS reopening plan. Key to the task force considerations should be the APS core value of equity: “Eliminate opportunity gaps and achieve excellence by providing access to schools, resources, and learning opportunities according to each student’s unique needs.”

Arlington has significant achievement gaps between groups of students, and these gaps are expected to increase as a result of school closures. Such disparities have long-term consequences, affecting post-secondary educational opportunities, jobs, and wages. Therefore, in-person education in Arlington this fall should focus on those students who need it the most.

Abby Raphael served on the Arlington School Board from 2008-2015, including two terms as Chair. She also led the Washington Area Boards of Education for two years. Currently she co-chairs the Project Peace Prevention Committee and Destination 2027 Steering Committee, is a member of the Board of the Arlington YMCA, and works with the Community Progress Network and Second Chance

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Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

(Updated at 4:10 p.m.) A new strategic plan. A newly-developed definition of “equity.” Years of exponential enrollment growth. Turnover of several high-level administrators and, in a few months, two board members. The hiring of the first Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer. The naming of the first new superintendent in over a decade. A shutdown due to a pandemic.

It has all come to a head and has created the perfect opportunity to pause and reset.

This pandemic should serve as a wake-up call to APS and the County to identify and fix the problems with student and parent access to online information and materials.

According to APS data collected, 95% of devices accessed the system in the past few weeks. That is impressive and encouraging. It does not mean all of the remaining 5% cannot access. Some students have chosen not to engage, some may be using another device available in their home, and some may not be able to continue with school due to circumstances caused by the pandemic.

APS and the County cannot fix every issue with online learning, but they can fix the basic problems of availability of devices and internet access and need to do so before the start of the next academic year. Schools have the devices. The County needs to find a way to resolve any lack of internet access.

This distance learning experience is a wake-up call to APS to finally develop and implement a district-wide ed tech curriculum that serves as an effective supplement to classroom instruction and that can facilitate a seamless transition to an effective online program when necessary.

The 1:1 technology initiative has been in place 6 years and we continue to endure vast inconsistencies and insufficient teacher training in how to optimize the use of devices for the benefit of instruction and learning. We cannot wait any longer.

This is a wake-up call to build a broad, integrated network of resources with APS and County working as a unit to identify, facilitate, and deliver needed services.

The beginnings of such a network can already be seen through the efforts to identify locations for new school facilities and collaborating on data used for enrollment projections. Other signs of an emerging network include APS referring parents to County programs as alternatives to eliminated summer enrichment programs, and collaboration between APS and the County for food distribution programs and increasing internet access through mobile Wi-Fi hotspots.

These are efforts to build upon, and this is the perfect time to assess the various needs of students and families, to identify whether APS or Arlington County is responsible for addressing those needs and determine how one can support the other to facilitate filling those needs. For example, education is the primary responsibility of school while social services are a major function of government. Schools could identify students and families in need of mental health and social services and offer space for County providers to deliver the actual services.

Another example is preschool and extended day programs. There is a need and desire for more preschool opportunities and APS’ extended day programs have waitlists. The County also runs preschool programs and may be able to expand its offerings more easily than APS. The County can also work to encourage and support the establishment of more private preschools, daycares, and extended day programs to extend APS’ offerings.

Finally, this is a wake-up call and a perfect opportunity to re-evaluate APS’ definition of equity and how it impacts APS policy decisions.

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Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

On February 27, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that there were 16 COVID-19 cases in the United States.

That same day, the Arlington Public Schools (APS) interim Superintendent presented her proposed FY 2021 budget, with total expenditures of $725.9 million. That reflected an 8.4% increase in expenditures over the current year, added 265 positions, and increased per pupil spending from $19,921 to $21,290. It included a step increase and cost of living adjustment for employees. Revenue was estimated at $698.4 million, with options presented for spending reductions to reduce the $27.5 million budget deficit.

In March, schools were closed, non-essential businesses shuttered, and stay-at-home orders were issued for most of the nation. By April 23, the number of reported COVID-19 cases in the United States had increased to 865,585.

When the School Board met on April 23, the economic impact of COVID-19 was evident in the proposed budget it adopted. Following the revised recommendation of the interim Superintendent, expenditures proposed in February were cut by $54.8 million — a 7.5% reduction in spending.

The School Board’s proposed budget is balanced, with expenditures matching the revised revenue estimate of $671.1 million.  Most of the change in revenue results from a decrease in the transfer that APS will receive from Arlington County: $21.6 million less in ongoing funds and $3.7 million less in one-time funds. That is based on the County Manager’s revised budget, which estimates $55.7 million less County revenue than was included in his initial proposed budget.

The new budget reality means that APS will spend next fiscal year about the same that it does this year, while educating more students, and facing other increased costs. As detailed in the interim Superintendent’s revised budget, FY 2021 expenditures will increase by about $1.5 million. That does not cover the $11.77 million estimated cost of enrollment growth, which is projected to increase by 4%, adding more than 1,100 students next year.

In the new budget reality, most of the proposed increases in the February proposed budget are eliminated and its reductions are retained, including cutting the Foreign Language in Elementary School program.

The compensation increase costing $15.3 million is eliminated. According to the Washington Area Boards of Education (WABE) Guide, which compares 10 local school divisions, Arlington ranks at the bottom of the 10 school divisions in salary for a teacher with a master’s degree at step one of the pay scale, and at or near the top for teachers with more experience. Because employing quality teachers is a key factor in student success, Arlington’s ranking for new teacher pay is cause for concern.

Class size is increased by one at every grade level, for a savings of $4.9 million. The WABE Guide shows that Arlington now has the lowest class size (students per classroom teacher) for high school, second lowest for middle school, and is in the middle of the pack for elementary school.

To balance the budget, reserved funds are used, reducing these from a current balance of $28.5 million to $12.1 million.

The School Board’s final FY 2021 budget, to be adopted on May 7, likely will be very similar to its proposed budget. If revenues come in higher than now projected, the School Board should first replenish its reserve funds.

It is hard to find a budgetary silver lining in any of this. But maybe it is this. Arlington’s commitment to quality public education continues. APS now spends the most per pupil in the region, at $19,921. Even with the new budget reality that reduces per pupil spending to $19,624, that is more than our neighboring jurisdictions invest now.

Abby Raphael served on the Arlington School Board from 2008-2015, including two terms as Chair. She also led the Washington Area Boards of Education for two years. Currently she co-chairs the Project Peace Prevention Committee and Destination 2027 Steering Committee, is a member of the Board of the Arlington YMCA, and works with the Community Progress Network and Second Chance.

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