As a principal for 21 years, I take pride in supporting my students. I’m the kind of principal who knows where students work, how many points or goals they scored in their last game, what part they played in the musical and how well they did on their last test.

Maybe if our representatives got to know kids in their districts like this, they wouldn’t take away crucial resources that give them the chance to thrive.

Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced an education bill that would slash  almost $15 billion from Title I funding, which supports our highest-need students. Given our post-pandemic challenges, it is time to increase funding, not impose draconian cuts that will harm our most vulnerable students.

For context, school leaders like me use Title I funds for a number of important programs, including reading and math instruction and providing support for English language learners, migrant students, homeless students and students who are at-risk of falling behind or dropping out.

In addition, it is becoming increasingly clear that our students are in the midst of a mental health crisis, which manifests itself in disengagement, truancy, aggressive behavior and substance use and abuse. We use our allocation of Title I funds to address this last issue through substance abuse prevention (SAP) services.

My high school, North Country Union, is located in the Northeast Kingdom (NEK), the most rural and largest geographic region of Vermont. The area is economically depressed, with the highest unemployment rate in the state and an economy reliant on tourism. Our isolation and economic hardship have contributed to a resilient, cooperative and self-reliant community spirit: As one farmer remarked after the catastrophic flooding this summer, “If you’re going to have a disaster, Vermont is definitely the place to have it.”

This sense of community is evident in our school programming as well. Our students know that they belong. They have access to and take pride in the many wonderful opportunities they have in the visual arts and athletics, and in their classes and programs at our career and technical education center.

Despite our on-going efforts to ensure that all of our students feel a genuine sense of belonging in our school, many continue to experience isolation and depression. Too often, these students turn to substances to “self-medicate” as a way of coping with their struggles. It is these students who would be most harmed by the proposed funding cuts.

Our SAP program moves away from the outdated model of suspending vulnerable students to “teach them a lesson,” which only further isolates them and reinforces the message that they don’t belong. The real work to address substance use in our schools and society comes in the form of relationships and services.

Read the full article about federal funding for schools by Chris Young at The Hechinger Report.