To the Editor:
The phrase du jour in Washington is "economic recovery." Through all the headlines about rampant unemployment, foreclosure forcing people from their homes, and people's future plans on hold, little has been said about who's supporting children in these difficult times. Little has been said about the key institution that affects children daily, which-when bolstered by significant investment-could result in long-term economic growth.
That institution is our education system. With many states and local school districts teetering on the financial brink, a major infusion of federal support must come now to strengthen this critical institution in supporting our children to become productive citizens. It's easy to see how shoring up the automotive industry is critical, with the many individuals and families whose livelihoods are jeopardized. It takes more creative thought and long-range planning to understand how investing now in education and education-related services is a down payment on the future.
What more important role does the federal government have than investing in the education of our youth to become both the productive workers of tomorrow and the protectors of our national security? Children must be successful in school. Our nation depends on it. Success in school means post-graduation readiness for higher education, training or immediate employment that helps grow the economy. The nation can no longer tolerate a graduation rate of just 75 percent or, in a major city like Detroit, 25 percent.
The employability and earning potential of students who do not attain a high school diploma are significantly lower than those who do. In turn, poor employment and earning outcomes seriously impede economic growth and development.
We know how children can be successful. The nation has well-trained professionals specializing in support services for schoolchildren. They understand the barriers to school success that children are facing. These are often the "invisible" professionals in the schools that students come to rely on and parents assume are available to their children, such as the speech-language pathologists, audiologists, school counselor, social worker, psychologist, nurse, physical and occupational therapists, and art, music and dance therapists.
Children react with stress and anxiety, just as the adults around them do, to the dire news reports and to the specific circumstances of their own families. This stress and anxiety impedes their ability to pay attention in class and causes them to act out, adding another layer to the already difficult day-to-day of just being a kid. Highly qualified teachers are critical. However, their training is for teaching, not for addressing these barriers to learning.
Investment in a strong complement of school-employed specialized instructional support personnel who are trained to provide social, emotional and health services and essential academic support is more critical than ever. Having a team of specialized instructional support personnel readily available is a cost-effective way of not only addressing current problems but identifying problems early on and preventing future problems. Both students and teachers deserve to be in a school environment that values the end goal of student success. It is clear that when the needs of the whole child are not met, optimum learning cannot occur.
Congress must seize this opportunity to ensure that we have a strong educational system with qualified teachers, administrators and specialized instructional support personnel. Bankrupting schools will permanently undermine our economic security. Cuts in personnel will create larger class and caseload sizes and result in less time and support for individualized instruction, which has proved to help students succeed in school. School districts affected by budget cuts have already begun to lay off specialized instructional support personnel-the professionals best trained to help children through these trying times and assist students to optimally benefit from classroom instruction.
Thus far, the discussion has focused solely on investing in repairing and improving the school buildings and technology. However, educational infrastructure must include a sufficient number of strong, dedicated professionals available and ready to develop the potential of our nation's very precious cargo. Reducing the investment in our children's future is a missed opportunity that will have serious repercussions for years to come. Having improved facilities are meaningless without the right complement of personnel shaping the educational potential of the students. That's the formula for sound economic sense.
National Alliance of Pupil Services Organizations (NAPSO)