If COVID-19 has brought any good, it was reminding Americans about the worth of brick-and-mortar public schools, the role of educators and the importance of investing in local institutions we long took for granted and often starve of resources and respect.
Given what we learned from the pandemic, voters on Nov. 3 should approve a $94.2 million bond package for Dickinson Independent School District. The bond won’t increase the Dickinson ISD tax rate, officials have said.
District officials and a community task force did their homework and laid out compelling, reasonable arguments to justify a bond issue.
Foremost is the fact that Dickinson ISD is growing fast. Its student population increased by about 3,200 over the past 10 years. The district anticipates growing to 11,000 students within this school year.
With such growth, the district needs a new 1,200-student junior high school. The district, like others in Texas, must meet a state mandate to provide full-day pre-kindergarten for qualifying students. The district doesn’t have the space to accommodate that mandate. It also must upgrade security and technology, among other necessary improvements.
Early in the pandemic, some prognosticators foretold that the future of education — and pretty much everything else — was at home. Remote learning and remote working would become a permanent part of the American culture.
But it quickly became apparent why such predictions, which had some wondering whether we needed schools at all, were premature.
The pandemic laid bare how ill-prepared schools were for remote learning or how ill-equipped some parents were for homeschooling their children. Districts across Galveston County, on the fly and with little precedent, worked hard and spent big to accommodate all students, providing devices and meals to disadvantaged students.
Still, we saw widening gaps and inequities among students. Children in homes with more resources are better able to cope with the disruption. Those of more limited means struggle, and educators everywhere are working with few new resources to reverse the troubling trend.
The pandemic and its disruptions to school years remind us why public education — publicly financed, tuition-free, accountable to public authorities and accessible to all students — is vital to our democracy.
“Before a system of public schools took hold in the mid-19th century, American children were educated through a hodgepodge of mostly private institutions and arrangements,” according to the Center of Public Education Policy, which bills itself as an independent advocate for public education and for more effective public schools.
“These included church-supported schools; local schools organized by towns or groups of parents; tuition schools set up by traveling schoolmasters; charity schools for poor children run by churches or benevolent societies; boarding schools for children of the well-to-do; ‘dame schools’ run by women in their homes; and private tutoring,” according to the center.
Such education was financed from various sources, including parents’ tuition payments, charitable contributions, property taxes, fuel contributions and, in some cases, state support, according to the center.
“This disjointed approach to schooling resulted in many inequities,” according to the center. “Often, schools served only boys whose families could afford the tuition. Large groups of children — including African Americans, Native Americans, many girls and some poor white children who did not belong to a church — were excluded from school by law or custom. In some places, it was a crime to teach a slave to read.”
After the American Revolution, some of the nation’s founders recognized a haphazard approach to schooling was inadequate to educate the people of the developing nation and that a more formal system was needed, according to the center.
The pandemic, which is re-creating a scenario of inequities and haphazard educational efforts, reminds us that although the future most certainly will involve remote learning and technology, those can never replace what students and educators get from interacting in person.
“Schools play a critical role in supporting the whole child, not just their academic achievement,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in an argument about why schools should reopen in the fall despite pandemic concerns.
“In school, students are also able to access support systems needed to recognize and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, appreciate others’ perspectives, and make responsible decisions. This helps reinforce children’s feelings of school connectedness, or their belief that teachers and other adults at school care about them and their well-being.
“Such routine in-person contacts provide opportunities to facilitate social-emotional development that are difficult, if not impossible, to replicate through distance learning,” according to the CDC.
The U.S. public education system is our best defense against inequality and our best weapon in creating a stronger nation.
Voters should approve Dickinson’s bond package, knowing it’s an investment in their community and democracy.
• Laura Elder