Wisconsin State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor delivered a virtual State of Education Address from the Capitol on Thursday, addressing the individual and collective challenges in education posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stanford Taylor emphasized equity in the education system as she discussed the state’s efforts to maintain the services provided by public schools as many students have begun the year virtually amid the pandemic. Topics included disparities in internet access and provision of school meals as well as funding for mental health and special education services.
“While the road ahead remains uncertain, what is clear is our commitment to our children, to building a better future and better world for them,” she stated.
Stanford Taylor cited data from EducationSuperHighway, a nonprofit focused on high-speed broadband for schools, that shows as many as 15 percent of Wisconsin households, representing 125,000 children, did not have internet access. The data suggests as many as 1 in 3 Black and Latinx students did not have internet access.
Members of the superintendent’s Equity Council are working with Gov. Tony Evers’ Task Force on Broadband Access to build strategies for digital inclusion and expanded internet access.
The superintendent then praised school districts and teachers for helping students access and adapt to online learning.
“School leaders and board members have worked tirelessly with state and local public health officials to create school reopening plans that prioritize the health and safety of students and staff while working to meet the academic, social-emotional and nutritional needs of every child,” the superintendent said.
Since the onset of the pandemic, over 31 million free school meals have been served to Wisconsin students through federally-funded programs administered by the DPI. The USDA recently announced an extension of waivers that provide free meals through the end of 2020 or until funding runs out.
Stanford Taylor praised Evers for allocating over $46 million in discretionary federal relief funds toward school districts most impacted by COVID-19. The CARES Act also distributed $175 million to Wisconsin’s K-12 schools.
The superintendent said she plans to emphasize educational equity and increased resources in the upcoming biennial budget. She will also propose increased funding for special education and mental health services.
“We are clear-eyed about the realities of the economic challenges and what that will play in our state budget decisions,” she said. “However, it is my hope our leaders can and will continue to prioritize public education and the needs of our most vulnerable learners.”
The superintendent also addressed her goals to increase and diversify the teacher workforce “so all students can benefit from having teachers of color.”
“It is time to finally shed the title of having the largest Black-white achievement in the country; to examine our systems, policies, programs and ways of engaging with students, families and each other; to truly listen to the voices of Black and other marginalized communities and deliver inclusive learning experiences that meet the needs of every child,” Stanford Taylor said.
Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, applauded the superintendent’s address and called for his legislative colleagues to come back into session to address public education issues.
“We can provide equitable resources to urban and rural districts alike, and we must forge new pathways to help us prepare our future leaders. It is unacceptable that we have not given special attention to public education during this unprecedented public health emergency,” Larson said in a press release.
Stanford Taylor will not be seeking re-election in April 2021, but said she will continue to serve children and families.
state news writer