Teachers concerned budget cuts will cause strain in school reopening plans

(Photo: Ariel Skelley/Getty Images)
(Photo: Ariel Skelley/Getty Images)

School officials have begun to work out details to reopen school for the fall, but many educators worry that education budget cuts will put a greater strain on teachers and students alike. 

A picture of TEA President Beth Brown
TEA President Beth Brown

Districts across Tennessee currently have task forces composed of members of the community and most have released few details about reopening schools for the fall. Metro Nashville Public Schools announced Tuesday three different scenarios for the fall reopening while Shelby County Schools announced their plan to combine in-person and distance learning. The Hamilton County Schools task force, with administrators, teachers, parents, students, community leaders and health professionals, say too many variables and possible changes could occur within the next two months to announce a plan yet. 

“I would question any district being able to provide concrete plans at this point,” said Tim Hensley, communications officer for Hamilton County Schools.

Teachers are looking at significant cuts and reductions state-wide and fear they will not be able to meet the needs of students, according to the Tennessee Education Association (TEA).

Initial announcements have caused concerns due to the implied need for increased resources, such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and social-distancing protocols that will require more staffing. 

Smaller class sizes, more nurses and counselors are just a few of the many resources necessary for students to return to school, according to TEA.  

“In order to meet the needs of our students, their safety needs and academic needs, we need more resources, not fewer,” said Beth Brown, president of TEA. 

Nationally, educators increased their workloads and efforts in order to meet the needs of students during the spring isolation period, and Brown has received numerous calls from educators worried about being asked to “do more for less” while having a second job to meet the needs of their own families. 

Other issues include the push for six-and-a-half-hour school days, which Brown says is not feasible, and the possible cut of “unnecessary” classes such as art, music and theater. 

“During the quarantine people were so frightened and so anxious about the uncertainty we were facing not only in school districts but our state and our world. There was a reliance on the arts to help cope with the anxiety in our world and to bring people together,” said Brown. 

  I would question any district being able to provide concrete plans at this point.   – Tim Hensley, Hamilton County Schools

School reopening plans will look different across Tennessee, and rural areas of Tennessee may suffer the most due to social-distancing guidelines. 

Brown taught high school English for 17 years in Grundy County, a mountainous area near Chattanooga named as a distressed county by the State of Tennessee, and knows needy families have very limited options for broadband access and technology needed for digital learning. 

“We don’t have some of the resources and capabilities that other districts have,” she said. 

TEA urges district task forces across Tennessee to include school officials and educators that work most closely with students in any reopening plans and to recognize future needs while having any funding focused on keeping educators employed as of March 15 due to their experience. 

“K -12 has got to be the last place that sees any cuts,” said Brown.