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Educating Amid COVID: From Supply Shortages Threatening School Meals in Alabama to Pittsburgh’s ‘Crisis Intervention Committee’ to Tackle COVID Learning Loss, 10 Ways States Are Adapting

By Joshua Parrish | October 5, 2021

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New data from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools shows charter school enrollment in the U.S. grew more during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic than during the prior six years, compared to traditional public schools losing as many as 1.4 million students during the same period.

Similarly, analysis from the Center on Reinventing Public Education also shows massive enrollment gains for online virtual schools. Enrollment spikes in nontraditional public schooling options speak to the desire for more options during pandemic school closures, writes The 74’s Linda Jacobson, though it’s unclear whether such strong trends will continue.

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Beyond issues of student mobility and disenrollment, here are 10 other updates from across the country about how states and school systems are confronting the challenges posed by the pandemic and the Delta variant — and working to preserve student learning amid the pandemic:

ALABAMA – Schools Struggle to Provide Consistent Meals Amid Food, Supply Shortages

The global disruption of supply lines for everything from computer chips to food products is having direct consequences for Alabama schools attempting to meet the food and nutrition needs of students and families. According to the state’s “No Kid Hungry” campaign, 1 in 5 Alabama children face hunger, a struggle that was exacerbated by the pandemic. In an effort to address the issue, school districts have tried “pay raises and partnerships with local farmers,” but unfortunately “solutions may take a while to arrive.”

NEW MEXICO – New Literacy Instruction Requirements Drive Changes to Teaching Reading

New Mexico students are about to experience a shift in the way they are taught to read in schools, with some educators feeling that statewide changes in instruction could have a significant impact on literacy across the state. Following a 2019 state law, the Public Education Department and local districts are now required to teach reading “through the use of structured literacy.” Jacqueline Costales, PED’s division director of curriculum and instruction claims that the structured literacy program “has been key in moving toward getting all kindergarten through fifth grade teachers across the state the training that is needed to teach reading in an explicit fashion.”

FLORIDA – Biden Ed Department to Compensate Districts Punished by Florida Gov. DeSantis

The administration of President Joe Biden announced it would compensate school and district leaders in Florida who were punished by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ efforts to prohibit school mask mandates. The Education Department has repaid several Florida school board members who were impacted by DeSantis’ decisions, sending “school officials in Alachua County” a total of $147,719. Alachua is just 1 of 11 FL school districts that went against DeSantis’ wishes by instituting mask mandates in schools. “We should be thanking districts for using proven strategies that will keep schools open and safe, not punishing them,” said Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.

MICHIGAN – State Directs $1.4 Billion to Addressing Childcare Challenges

With the arrival of new federal and state education funds, thousands of Michigan families will be able to receive “subsidized child care” from existing and new child care centers. Matt Gillard, president of Michigan’s Children calls the $1.4 billion in childcare funding “a huge step in the right direction.” Gillard adds, “the need for investment in our public child care systems is clearly being seen.” Funds from the $1.4 billion investment contributes to Michigan’s “Child Development and Care,” its largest child care system that provides subsidies and takes on “private care for low-income families.” When the budget is officially passed, state officials will be under the gun to dole out the funds, having just 3 months to allocate “$700 million in stabilization grants” for child care centers.

NORTH CAROLINA – Feds Approve NC COVID-19 School Spending Plan

Schools across North Carolina have gained access to approximately $5.5 billion from waves of federal stimulus packages over the last year and a half, with officials intent on using the money to address problems that have appeared or worsened during the pandemic. According to WRAL News, about half of the latest $900 million has been put toward devices such as computers and software, while most of the remaining has paid for “extended employment contracts, cafeteria workers, bonus pay, salary supplements and stipends, bus driver overtime and new employees.”

HAWAII – Native Education Programs Receive Boost With Federal Relief Dollars

Hawaii will direct just over $28 million of its federal American Rescue Plan funding to its Native Hawaiian Education Program, which provides awards and grants to local efforts driving outcomes with native students, including to programs like the Native Pacific Institute for Education and Culture and the Hula Conservation Society. According to Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), “This new federal funding will ensure that Native Hawaiians education programs have the resources they need to support their students in time for the next school year.”

KENTUCKY – Majority of School Districts Maintain Mask Requirements

All but six of Kentucky’s 171 school districts are maintaining mask mandates after the state board of education allowed local decisions to be made on vaccine and mask mandates. Sarah Wesson, superintendent of Lee County’s school district stated, “It’s not a political decision for us… It’s just about the safety of our kids, and we are just trying to do the best we can to stay open and keep our students and staff safe.” Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear “faulted” policymakers across the state for leaving it up to school boards despite health officials’ recommendations.

PENNSYLVANIA – Pittsburgh to Form Group to Address Pandemic Impacts on Education

The Pittsburgh Public Schools school board is set to vote on a resolution to form an “education crisis intervention committee” to address the slew of negative effects brought on by COVID-19. Data presented to the school board in support of the resolution showed students learning progress lagging compared to past years. If approved, the committee “could have up to 30 members, and each school board member will be able to nominate two members.”

TENNESSEE – Officials Tout Summer School Learning Gains As Schools Start School Year

State-funded learning-loss recovery programs are responsible for “learning gains” made by Tennessee students this summer, says Gov. Bill Lee. Around 120,000 students attended either four- or six-week programs throughout June and July after the state invested over $160 million in summer programs using COVID-19 relief aid. Summer programs focused on reading, math, STEM, and physical education, with progress monitoring by educators showing student growth of as much as 5.97 percentage points in English and 10.94 percentage points in math.

CALIFORNIA – State Initiative Aims to Have All Third-Graders Reading by 2026

California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond announced the start of a new effort to ensure all third graders in the state are reading proficiently by 2026, though the initiative’s details are being worked out by a panel of educators, parents, and research experts. In his public announcement, Thurmond cited years of lackluster reading progress on the state’s Smarter Balanced assessments, as well increased challenged associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Assemblywoman Mia Bonta is expected to introduce state legislation that would guide recommendations and investments in a new state reading plan.

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