Education Through the Pandemic: From Tennessee’s Push to Woo New Teachers Through Higher Salaries to Indiana’s Decline in HS Grads Seeking Out More Education, 11 Ways States Are Confronting COVID Slide

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.

Across the nation, districts’ early plans to spend billions in federal school funds are largely focused on one-time expenses like facilities upgrades, filling budget gaps, and rewarding educators. There are fewer signs of strictly academic investments like high-dosage tutoring, expanded school years, or strategic changes to instruction and curriculum systems. Chad Aldeman, policy director at the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University, said many district plans made little mention of programs or investments geared toward the most vulnerable students. “The pandemic has affected different students differently, and we’re seeing a lot of one-size-fits-all,” he said.

According to the American Rescue Plan, districts will submit spending plans to states by August, though they’ll have until September 2023 to spend the sums. After releasing updated guidance on how districts and states can spend the unprecedented amount of funding, Ian Rosenblum, assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, discussed the process and priorities that states will be expected to follow with FutureEd. Rosenblum highlights the multitude of ways schools will be allowed to spend funds, including on academic recovery programs like tutoring and summer school, expanded social-emotional supports and resources, and widespread efforts to identify and re-engage students who have become disconnected from school systems.

Beyond issues of new federal funds, here are 10 other updates from across the country about how states and school systems are confronting the challenges posed by the coronavirus emergency — and working to preserve student learning amid the pandemic:

TENNESSEE – State Raises Base Teacher Salary in Bid to Attract Teachers

Tennessee is among a handful of states boosting the base salaries of educators as schools, parents, and officials emerge from the pandemic with a newfound respect for teaching. Teacher salaries in the state continue to trail neighboring states, though Gov. Bill Lee has made improving teacher working conditions, training, and pay a goal of his tenure.

INDIANA – Fewer High School Graduates Continued Education During Pandemic 

For the last five years, the number of Indiana students who are choosing to go to college has been trending down. In 2019 specifically, the number of high school graduates who chose to go to college saw the largest one-year drop on record. However, some schools are working to buck the trend. Ivy Tech in Lawrenceburg, for example, has seen an increase in enrollment due to its partnerships with 10 high schools in Southeast Indiana. The effort includes the option to receive college credit for classes in high school. Officials say such higher-ed partnerships could be key in addressing declines exacerbated by the pandemic.

TEXAS – Legislative Proposals Could Redirect Money Currently Flowing to Districts 

Texas legislators are considering an unexpected proposal that would grant the state education agency the power to allocate and distribute over half a billion dollars in funding that districts typically control. As officials prepare to iron out details on a number of last-minute proposals, educators, parents, and advocates are raising concerns about a state “power grab.”

NEW YORK – Charters Take Different Paths on Vaccines, Remote Learning 

New York City’s various charter school networks are taking disparate paths on the matter of offering virtual learning options and requiring vaccines for staff this next school year. Though Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the district would not offer a virtual option next year, at least two of the city’s largest charter networks have announced they will continue offering remote instruction to families who request it. Some charters, citing parent confidence and safety, are also requiring teachers and staff to be vaccinated before the beginning of the new school year.

MARYLAND – Board of Education Calls for More Data on Pandemic Education

Recent data from the Maryland State Board of Education has provided insight into how schools across the state performed during the pandemic. The data showed that most school systems had an attendance rate of 90% or greater, that high school students failed math and English at higher rates than science and social studies, and that many students experienced increased rates of anxiety and stress. Fortunately, the data also showed students were adjusting positively to in-person learning where schools had reopened. State Superintendent Karen Salmon said that she expects all schools to be back to in-person instruction on the first day of the 2021-22 school year.

ILLINOIS – Chicago Looks to Summer Programs to Ease Transition Back to School

In Chicago, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Academy of Social Justice is preparing for a four-week intensive program in July that will help students from all grades address learning loss. Educators, politicians, and experts are hopeful that summer learning will help students catch up academically, address their mental health needs, and help prepare them for the transition back into school learning in advance of the return to full-time, in-person learning in fall.

NATIONAL — Why Some Schools Won’t Offer a Virtual Option This Fall

As this school year ends for most of the country, states and districts are sorting through the politics of remote learning to determine if students and families should continue to be offered a virtual learning option for the 2021-22 school year. Some families and advocates say that a simple “return to normal” won’t work for all students and cite how some thrived in a remote environment or should be allowed to access the option for health or safety reasons. Despite that view, 16 states are expecting all students to be back in classrooms in the fall — with a handful taking additional steps to limit or completely remove virtual options. New York City, the nation’s largest district, announced there would be no virtual model for students next year, and similar decisions have been reached by officials in New Jersey, the District of Columbia, and San Diego. Though they’ve experienced some pushback for canceling remote options, officials say the majority of parents and educators are eager to get students back in school buildings and say they’ve struggled to make virtual classes work well. Similarly, new data from the RAND Corporation finds that students who learning remotely this past school year were more likely to suffer academically.

ALABAMA – Officials Prepare Largest Education Budget in State History

The largest education budget in state history would boost teachers’ base pay, create new incentives to attract science and math teachers, and prevent cuts due to enrollment changes. The budget proposal does not include an additional $3 billion in federal school relief funding.

IDAHO – State’s Graduation Rate Inches Upwards, Fewer Students Pursue College 

Despite achieving an increase in graduation rates across the Gem State, Idaho education officials announced that fewer graduates pursued college or career training during the pandemic. The average SAT score for Idaho’s graduates in 2020 also fell, though officials cite the pandemic, school closures, and other challenges as contributing to the decline.

OKLAHOMA – School Counselor Corps To Use Relief Funding to Increase Mental Health Access

Oklahoma State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister has established a School Counselor Corps that will provide students with more mental health resources. The state Department of Education will spend $35 million to provide districts with more school counselors, licensed school-based mental health professionals, social workers and recreational therapists. Funded by American Rescue Plan relief dollars, the effort represents a key part of the state’s recovery plan and will fund positions through the 2023-24 school year.

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