The real costs of a pandemic on our local schools
Planning for the coming year is in full swing, and thanks to the pandemic, predicting what next year might look like is proving to be difficult. On top of the perpetual funding challenges we face due to state funding that does not keep pace with inflation, we’ve also seen a significant decline in student enrollment this year as a result of COVID-19.
This isn’t a Stillwater problem alone. Districts across the state are facing similar enrollment decline and resulting financial challenges. Many are making significant budget cuts for next year and considering ways to increase revenue through voter-approved referendums. Here in Stillwater, we’ve lost more than 330 students in our district between March 2020 to March 2021. As our enrollment declines so too does our funding. While we are hopeful more families will return to our district as the pandemic turns around, we anticipate continued funding challenges in the year ahead.
But what about the federal and state COVID-19 relief packages?
The federal COVID-19 relief funds (CARES Act) have helped keep us afloat this year, but do not solve our ongoing funding challenges. The district will receive a total of about $5.6 million in one-time funds to help support the unexpected costs of the pandemic. These funds are being used to purchase things like cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment, Chromebooks and internet Hotspots for students to support at-home learning. It also helped pay for additional teachers, custodians and support staff hired for one year only to support students learning from school and at home.
So what can we do?
- Talk to your legislators: Encourage them to properly fund public education. Nearly 70% of our revenue comes from the state and we rely on this funding to pay our bills. When state funding doesn’t keep pace with rising costs, we fall further and further behind. This means we have less and less money with which to address the increasing needs of our students. This past year we were short nearly $4 million because state funding didn’t keep up with inflation. Find a list of legislators online at stillwaterschools.org/legislators.
- Consider a reinvestment in our schools: On November 2, 2021 voters will be asked to renew our expiring operating levy and provide additional funding to support our students. If a new levy is not approved, the district will lose about $12 million and face significant budget cuts for the 2021-2022 school year and beyond. Learn more about the operating levy at stillwaterschools.org/levy2021.
Meeting the needs of our students is truly a community endeavor. Your support, both at the legislative level and the ballot box, determines the quality of education provided to our young people. Thank you for all you do to help us care for our kids now and into the future.
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