Emergency money for COVID schools falls short of improving student success, study finds

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Despite the federal government giving states and school districts billions of dollars to combat student learning loss during the COVID-19 pandemic, student achievement is declining across the country, and the money to address it may not be enough, especially for places with greatest need, according to a new analysis published on Tuesday.

While federal aid dollars to schools specifically set aside to address student learning losses totaled about $189 billion, schools needed about $500 billion, the new study by the American Educational Research Association found.

As great as the need for additional resources may be, the study’s authors urge the federal government to look at recent national standardized test scores shows decline in student achievement before giving states and districts more money.

“The magnitude of learning loss in students is so great. We need to address it immediately with the best policy interventions in the use of [Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief] funding to address even greater learning losses,” said Matthew P. Steinberg, one of the study’s authors, refers in an interview to the pandemic aid given to schools in the last two years. Steinberg is too an associate professor of education and public policy and director of EdPolicyForward at George Mason University Schar School of Policy & Government.

In their analysis, the authors compared federal government spending during the pandemic to its spending during the Great Recession. In both cases, they found that the way the money was distributed and how it was earmarked or not for specific purposes was problematic and did not meet intended policy goals.

“Despite the radically different effects that the Great Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic have had on American society and on the American K-12 education system specifically, we can document commonalities in federal policy during these two crises,” Steinberg wrote and his co. -author Kenneth Shores, an assistant professor of education and social policy at the University of Delaware College of Education and Human Development, wrote.

President Joe Biden signed the US bailout into law in March 2021, allocation $1.9 trillion in federal assistance in emergency funds in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan included money for schools to address student learning losses, open schools safely, address student mental health and address other pandemic-related needs. Part of these funds was set aside specifically to reduce learning loss. The federal government has not yet distributed all the emergency aid money to the schools.

“States and school districts have the resources they need and are obligated to address the effects of the pandemic on student learning… States are specifically obligated to address the needs of students disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, including students with disabilities , English learners and students experiencing homelessness,” The White House said a year after Biden signed his aid package.

While the federal government is holding on to what’s left of the aid money, the Department of Education should consider spending on the students most in need, Steinberg said.

“From a policy perspective, it may be difficult politically to increase the amount of federal aid, but to publicize the costs necessary to offset losses (either of revenue in the case of the Great Recession or learning in the case of COVID (-19 pandemic) can help.Furthermore, while we are not suggesting that federal aid be earmarked for specific purposes (eg, with categorical aid), the lack of consistent and complete data collection limits accountability efforts and may reduce political support for federal aid,” reads that in the report. .

The Department of Education did not immediately return a request for comment.

What should students recover from?

A recent national report shows that the nation’s 9-year-olds fell severely behind in math and reading during the pandemic. And while no group of students was left untouched by declining standardized test scores, the gaps in achievement only widened between black and Hispanic students relative to their white and Asian peers.

More: ‘Biggest drop in scores’ in reading for nation’s 9-year-olds, first ever drop in math

Steinberg said the federal government should look at the most affected students and give schools in those parts of the country additional funding to deal with learning loss.

“We need to do a better job of targeting federal aid to districts that need it most and be more flexible about spending over time rather than moving forward with specific allocations and block grants,” Steinberg said, adding, that federal block spending could have expanded. the achievement gaps across states for poorer students. Some states with identical levels of student poverty are more progressive than others, and that can determine how much Title I funding — for schools with large numbers of children from low-income families — those schools receive.

What can the federal government do?

As school districts respond and try to mitigate student learning losses, the researchers recommend that the federal government change the way it distributes taxpayer dollars to districts. And they said there is far too little accountability for how districts spend those dollars.

“Policymakers should require, or at least provide incentives for, school districts to use federal aid to address student learning losses,” Steinberg said. “This is much more important than using it, for example, for the construction of new facilities — such as athletic fields — that have little to do with meeting the academic needs of students.”

Increased transparency at the state and district level in spending during crises helps policymakers address the discrepancies, Steinberg and Shores wrote. There is no national database that tracks how the aid is being spent, but groups including FutureEd, an independent think tank at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, during the pandemic have analyzed some of the available data on local district and state aid spending.

One proposal the authors offered the federal government is to require all or at least a subset of districts to report how their revenue was spent to the National Center for Education Statistics.

And future government spending during such crises should rely less on “distributable convenience mechanisms, such as state funding formulas or Title I allocations, and instead be more closely tied to policy goals” to adequately meet the widely varying needs of student learning loss of across the nation, Steinberg and Shores wrote in their analysis.

Contact Kayla Jimenez at kjimenez@usatoday.com. Follow her on Twitter at @kaylajjimenez.

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