Educating Through COVID: From New York City’s Declining Enrollment to Tennessee’s Bid to Boost School Spending By $1 Billion, 9 Ways States Are Confronting the Crisis

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A recently released report by Unicef, UNESCO, and the World Bank paints a bleak picture of educational progress across the globe as student achievement was stunted by school closures amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Disruptions associated with virtual learning impacted over 600 million students worldwide, according to the report, while nearly 470 million children could not be reached by digital programs at all. The learning loss associated with global school closures appears “nearly insurmountable,” said Robert Jenkins, UNICEF chief of education.

In the United States, such learning loss was seen in steep declines in the rates of students performing proficiently in math and English, including in states like Texas, California, Ohio, and North Carolina, as well as widespread drops in statewide graduation rates. Recent coverage by Chalkbeat and The Associated Press specifically points to falling graduation rates in more than 20 states as an indicator that “the coronavirus may have ended nearly two decades of nationwide progress toward getting more students diplomas.”

Looking beyond global learning loss and America’s waning graduation rates, here are nine 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:

1NEW YORK – NYC Schools Show Broad Declines in Enrollment Amid Pandemic

According to New York state data, Chalkbeat reports that about three quarters of the city’s public schools saw enrollment declines this year, with nearly 23% losing 10% or more of their students. Black and white students in grades K-12 saw the largest drops of all racial groups this school year, declining about 7.5% each; Asian American student enrollment dropped 5% and for Latino students, the drop was 4.5%. School systems across the country have also experienced enrollment declines this year, including nearly 6% in Los Angeles and 3% in Chicago, the nation’s second and third largest districts.

2 TENNESSEE – Gov. Lee proposes $1 billion boost for Tennessee education

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced a proposed $1 billion increase to Tennessee’s nearly $6 billion education budget. “The priorities laid out in the State of the State, including an additional $1 billion investment in education, an increase in teacher pay, and dedication to expanding career and technical opportunities for students, if adhered to, will make the 2022 legislative session a success for Tennessee’s students and their futures,” Adam Lister, president and CEO of Tennesseans for Student Success, a middle Tennessee-based nonprofit organization, said in a statement.

3IOWA – Gov. Directs Federal K-12 Funding to Increase Teacher Diversity

Gov. Kim Reynolds announced a $9 million teacher and paraeducator apprenticeship program relying on federal relief funds to support high school students who want to earn a paraeducator certificate and associate’s degree and assist paraeducators who want to earn a bachelor’s degree. Lawrence Bice, chair of the task force, told the Iowa State Board of Education that the program is expected to bring in a diverse group of applicants. Data from the state education department show more teachers of color are entering the profession, but not enough to keep up with student demographics. Of Iowa’s new teachers in 2000, 2.8% were people of color; two decades later, the figure grew to 5.7%.

4 DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA – Health Department Issues Test-to-Stay Guidance for Schools

The D.C. Health Department issued new guidance that recommends how schools considering “test-to-stay” programs should roll out the initiative as an alternative to quarantining and to keep more students in school. So far, the school system has launched a test-to-stay pilot program only in selected pre-kindergarten classes, whose students are not yet eligible for a coronavirus vaccine. The guidance also updates isolation rules for school staff and students who develop COVID-19.

5 LOUISIANA – New Orleans Becomes First District to Set Student Vaccination Requirement

New Orleans is set to be the first large school district in the nation to mandate COVID vaccinations for students, though experts are warning that state laws will likely allow parents to easily opt-out their children. District officials recognized the status of state laws, but stated their goals were to eventually work with every student and family to either get vaccinated or obtain a proper waiver.

6 MICHIGAN – Public Poll Shows Priorities for COVID Relief Funding

A survey of hundreds of educators, parents, and community members in Michigan showed strong support for using COVID-19 relief funding to boost student tutoring and mental health programs, which both rated among the top of a list of priorities. Despite widespread support for the priorities, the survey did show some differences in focus between parents and non-parents, as well as between Democrats and Republicans.

7 KANSAS – Lawmakers Resist Ending Limitations on Virtual Learning

Kansas lawmakers are standing behind a current state law under which school districts cannot go fully remote, forcing districts to close schools instead when a COVID surge necessitates. “I’m almost glad that we passed this because now we can’t blame them for being virtual, even though they don’t have the choice. If they did, they would be blamed,” Kansas Senate Minority Whip Sen. Pat Pettey, D-Kansas City, explained.

8 ILLINOIS – Gov. Ptritzker Navigates Paid Leave, Vaccination Deal for School Staff

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a new statewide compromise: public school and higher education employees across Illinois won’t have to expend their sick time if they are forced to miss work due to COVID-19 — as long as they’re fully vaccinated. “Vaccines are a vital tool in preventing the deadly effects of COVID-19, and those who take the steps to be fully vaccinated against this virus are doing their part to keep everyone safe,” Pritzker said in a statement. The Chicago Teachers Union lauded the agreement Monday, saying Pritzker “clearly understands the value of cooperating with workers, and we hope (Chicago Public Schools) follows his lead.”

9 ARIZONA – State Sues Federal Government Over Funding, Mask Mandates

Arizona sued the Biden administration claiming that the Treasury Department exceeded its legal authority by establishing final rules governing the aid program that include health-related stipulations. This is in response to the Treasury Department threatening to rescind some of the $2.1 billion Arizona received because the state used the funds to establish two programs the federal government said undermine the use of masks in schools. “Treasury believes the rule is correct and allowed by the statute and Constitution,” said Dayanara Ramirez, a Treasury spokesperson.

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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