COVID & Education: Iowa Schools Proactively Tighten Budgets, Bracing for End of Pandemic Funding

Cross-country updates on how states & schools are confronting challenges posed by COVID-19 and its variants — and working to preserve student progress

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Both this school year and last school year, “public school leaders estimated that about half of their students began the school year behind grade level in at least one academic subject,” says Peggy Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, of new data recently released by NCES’ School Pulse Panel. By contrast, before the pandemic, roughly 36% of students began the school year at least one grade level behind. 

The data underscore the resiliency of pandemic-era learning loss and the depth of the challenge schools face in recovering academic losses. 

Looking beyond student proficiency, below is our latest roundup of updates from 12 states about how school systems are confronting the challenges posed by COVID-19 and its variants — and working to preserve student progress amid the pandemic:

IOWA — Schools Prepare to Tighten Budgets as Pandemic Aid Ends

Some school districts in Iowa are proactively strategizing how to keep programs such as full-day pre-school fully funded once historic amounts of federal pandemic funds expire in 2024. Karla Hogan, Cedar Rapids schools’ executive director of business services, said her district is simultaneously reserving some of its state funds from other areas while pushing on lawmakers to approve revised funding at the state level to avoid program cuts and layoffs.

OHIO — Governor Pushes For Science of Reading As Only Approach:

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine is being described as taking the nation’s reckoning on literacy instruction and the “science of reading” to new heights, proposing legislation that bars literacy approaches many say have lost credibility. Under the proposal, materials or lessons using approaches without a strong evidence base, including the use of “three-cueing”, would be banned, which could include widely used programs like Balanced Literacy, Whole Language, and Reading Recovery. “There is a great deal of research about how we learn to read,” he said. “And today, we understand the great value and importance of phonics. Not all literacy curriculums are created equal, and sadly, many Ohio students do not have access to the most effective reading curriculum.”

ILLINOIS — Gov. J.B. Pritzker Renews Pre-K Expansion Push with 2024 Budget Proposing $250 Million Increase

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker proposed increasing the state’s education budget by nearly 11% over the last budget, a notable push as he marks the beginning of his second term in office. While he’ll need approval from state lawmakers, Pritzker said the increased investment would pay dividends in “positive social and economic impacts” The proposal includes significant expansions in Pre-K programs across the state, centering on a four-year plan to create 20,000 Pre-K seats in classrooms by 2027. 

TEXAS — Dallas ISD Changed Some School Schedules to Combat Learning Loss. Did It Work?:

Two years after Dallas Independent School District offered two new academic calendars for schools to opt into a bid to maximize learning recovery, the district is digging into data to learn if the extended calendars made a difference for students. Dallas ISD Chief Academic Officer Shannon Trejo previewed data at a recent Board of Trustees meeting that indicates that offering three potential calendars – a standard calendar, an intersession calendar, and a school-day redesign calendar – may have helped some students recover and “retain” learning, though the gains were smaller than what trustees had expected. 

CALIFORNIA — 1.3 Million Los Angeles Students Could Soon Access Free Teletherapy

A new partnership between Los Angeles county schools and telehealth provider Hazel Health could provide short-term mental health services to the region’s 1.3 million students amid a statewide focus on addressing spiking rates of suicide, depression, and other mental health concerns. After up to six weeks of services, Hazel Health says it is positioned to help connect students and families requiring long-term treatment to community-based providers. 

UTAH — Lawmakers Push to End School Grading

A bill being considered by the Utah legislature would end the state’s use of letter grades to evaluate schools and has cleared the House Education Committee with over 24 co-sponsors. The push is being spearheaded by State Rep. Douglas Welton, a former public school teacher, with support from the Utah State Board, the Utah Education Association, and the School Boards Association. If passed, the state would still identify schools performing in the bottom 20% for interventions, but would no longer assign schools grades A-F. A second education-focused bill in the legislature would tie recently approved teacher pay increases to inflation. 

MISSISSIPPI — New Study Says Holding Kids Back One Key Factor in Mississippi’s Reading Revolution

“A report released last week by ExcelinEd and Wheelock Educational Policy Center at Boston University should end the debate over the value of holding back students who are not reading at grade level by the end of third grade,” writes Dr. Kymyona Burk of ExcelinEd and former Mississippi state superintendent Carey Wright. The report points to the policy as a main driver behind Mississippi’s sharp increase in reading scores for fourth graders on the 2019 National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP. Mississippi was the only state to post gains in ELA on the exam. 

ILLINOIS — Chicago Spent Big on Summer School in 2022. But Tracking Participation Proved Difficult

Chicago Public Schools is working through a secondary challenge posed by historic amounts of federal recovery dollars and the relatively rapid deployment of out-of-school and summer programs: tracking enrollment and participation. Data obtained by Chalkbeat show record sign-ups for summer programs after then-new Chicago Superintendent Pedro Martinez urged schools to “go big” on summer learning. However, the data makes it tricky to discern how many actually registered, how frequently and to what extent students showed up, and what kinds of positive impacts the investments may have had on learning or social and emotional health. The district says it’s at work to improve data collection and reporting for the summer of 2023.

KANSAS — State Program to Give $1,000 to Some Families to Fight Learning Loss. Here’s How to Apply

The Kansas Education Enrichment Program (KEEP), announced recently by Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, aims to provide families with up to $1,000 to spend on “educational goods and services” meant to help recover lost learning incurred during the pandemic. Funding for KEEP comes from Kansas’ share of the American Rescue Plan Act’s State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund.

TENNESSEE — What Do Teachers Think About Curriculum Quality? Tennessee Knows

“It’s one (commendable) thing for states to prioritize access to high-quality instructional materials and training for educators,” writes policy expert Jocelyn Pickford on the CurriculumHQ platform, “it’s another (even more commendable) thing to track and study how those priorities are actually showing up in classrooms.” Pickford spotlights data from the recent Tennessee Educator Survey showing “a deep dive into teachers’ beliefs about curriculum and professional learning quality, among several other topics.” Of note: 87% of teachers (regardless of subject) said their professional learning has been closely aligned to the instructional materials that have been adopted by their district and have led to improvements in their classroom instruction. Learn more on CurriculumHQ. 

NORTH CAROLINA — House Committee OKs Software for Learning Loss

North Carolina’s House Education Committee has approved the use of federal pandemic recovery funds to be used to provide districts with access to Gooru Navigator, a program that “provides teachers and parents with up-to-the-minute performance data on how students are performing in the classroom,” for up to three years. Jamey Faulkenberry, director of government affairs for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, told lawmakers the distinguishing feature of Gooru Navigator is that other platforms can feed into it, making the software more workable for localities.

NEVADA — Governor Joe Lombardo Orders K-12 Audits in an Attempt to Improve the State’s Public Education System

After campaigning partially on increasing transparency and accountability for K-12 public schools in the state, Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo has ordered third-party audits of all schools to be delivered to his office, with the goal of soon providing recommendations on how to improve K-12 outcomes in the state. The 14 various forms of audit include those on financial compliance and civil rights and must be submitted to the governor’s office by March 1.

This update on pandemic recovery in education collects and shares news updates from the district, state, and national levels as all stakeholders continue to work on developing safe, innovative plans to resume schooling and address learning loss. It’s an offshoot of the Collaborative for Student Success’ QuickSheet newsletter, which you can sign up for here.

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