COVID & School Recovery: Connecticut’s Breakthrough in Reengaging Missing Students, New York City Aims to Prioritize Mental Health & More

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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School choice laws and policies are enjoying a marked surge in interest and approval, reports Education Week, particularly in Republican-led states, as parents and politicians express frustration with school systems, fractured pandemic responses, and incendiary “culture war” battles. 

In recent weeks, at least seven states have advanced discussions or legislation around “school choice” measures like charter school expansions and the establishment of Education Savings Accounts, which allow families to use state education funds towards attendance at private schools. Largely modeled on previous school choice efforts in Florida and Arizona, among others, states like Nebraska, Iowa, Utah, and Arkansas are forging ahead with their efforts to allow use of education funds outside of traditional public school systems.

Looking beyond parental choice, here are ten other updates from across the country about how states and school systems are confronting the challenges posed by COVID-19 and its variants — and working to preserve student progress amid the pandemic:

CONNECTICUT — A State Program to Reduce Chronic Absenteeism Is Working

A new report by an Education Research Collaborative between the Connecticut Education Department and prominent state research institutions — including Yale University, the University of Connecticut, and Wesleyan University — demonstrated remarkable success for a pandemic program implemented in some 15 Connecticut school districts. The program — called the Learning Engagement and Attendance Program or LEAP — was fueled by federal recovery dollars and leveraged trained family support staff to conduct home visits to families of students deemed chronically absent. Since 2021, home visitors have helped hundreds of families navigate distinct challenges like employment, housing, mental and physical healthcare, substance abuse, and the immigration system to ensure students attend school regularly and on-time. The study found an average improvement in chronic absenteeism rates of 15 percentage points, with some districts — like Hartford Public Schools — experiencing gains nearly twice that size.

INDIANA — State Doles Out $2.2 Million in STEM Grant Funding

The Indiana Department of Education recently announced that 48 school districts and charter schools across the state will receive close to $2.2 million in STEM Integration Grant funding. The STEM Integration Grant seeks to increase access and support for schools to offer more learning opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math.

ILLINOIS — State Superintendent Proposes $516 Million More for Education

Illinois lawmakers are considering a budget request from outgoing State Superintendent Carmen Ayala to raise K-12 spending from $9.8 billion to about $10.3 billion, or a 5.3% increase. The request includes roughly $350 million more for K-12 schools, $60 million more for pre-K programs, and additional increases for “transportation, special education, and free meals,” according to Chalkbeat. 

NEW YORK — Mayor Eric Adams Promises Mental Telehealth Support for all NYC High School Students

Amid spiraling concern about student wellbeing in the nation’s largest school district, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced that all the city’s high school-aged students would soon have free access to mental health resources via a telehealth program. Framed as “the biggest student mental health program in the nation,” the announcement was met with cautious optimism from school and health professionals in the city. “It raises lots of procedural questions which maybe they will fill in later, but it’s hard for me not to focus on those right away,” said Kevin Dahill-Fuchel, the executive director of Counseling in Schools. 

PENNSYLVANIA — High Schools Could Start Offering Students K-12 Education Training Next School Year

To expose students to careers in education and further develop and diversify the teacher pipeline, the Pennsylvania Department of Education will begin offering K-12 education as a new career and technical education (CTE) program starting next school year. Schools can choose to offer the program informally or with department approval: the latter will make schools eligible for state and federal funding, according to Pennsylvania’s CTE director, Lee Burket. 

TENNESSEE — State Schools Need $9 Billion of Infrastructure Investment, Report Says

According to a new state report, Tennessee needs to invest more than $9 billion in its K-12 education infrastructure to tackle needs for renovations and technology improvements, as well as to build additions and new schools. The state received over $4 billion in federal relief funds, but under direction from Gov. Bill Lee, districts were encouraged to put at least half of their portions toward education recovery programs and resources. The report cites research that indicates investments in K-12 infrastructure can improve learning, health, and behavior, while noting local and state officials struggle to determine how to cover these costs. 

MICHIGAN — Whitmer’s Fifth State of the State Prioritizes Expanded Preschool, Tutoring

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s fifth State of the State address included multiple nods to expanded education programming in the state, including a push for universal preschool for all 4-year-olds and large-scale tutoring to middle- and high-school students. Whitmer’s plans are expected to be thoroughly debated, even as she enjoys a Democratic majority in the state legislature and a state budget surplus, as advocates call attention to sharp staffing challenges and increasing clamor for expanded school choice policies.

NEBRASKA — Teacher Shortage Worsening Across Nebraska, State Report Says

The number of unfilled teaching positions in Nebraska is up 60% over the last year, according to a district survey conducted by the state department of education. Though the unfilled positions represent just under 3% of total positions in the state, officials say the increases reflect a “shrinking applicant pool” that is posing particular challenges for hard-to-staff subjects, like special education, career programs, and language arts.

HAWAII — State Outlines Plan for 465 More Pre-K Classrooms by 2032

Education leaders’ goal of providing pre-K opportunities for all children in Hawaii within the next decade is kicking off with the planned construction or refurbishment of 80 classrooms by August 2024. The $200 million plan will see 50 additional pre-K classrooms added every year through 2032 and places Hawaii amongst a small group of states that have approved large-scale expansions of pre-K programs.

MINNESOTA — Governor Proposes Child Tax Credits, Universal Free Lunch, Boost in K-12 Education Funding

Gov. Tim Walz has proposed a substantial K-12 education package which details an expansive education and childcare plan that includes efforts to increase affordable childcare, universal free meals for Minnesota students, and a child tax credit for low income families. “This budget will tackle and eliminate child poverty, put money into families’ pockets and fund our schools,” said Gov. Walz. Walz was met with criticism from lawmakers across the aisle, who argue the proposed budget would send funds to schools that are failing to address low test scores and large achievement gaps.

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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