This week’s State of the Union address by President Biden included a brief mention of education that some may not have flagged as all that important. After all, it was one of several items on a long list of accomplishments the President touted to show that he and Congress responded to the needs of the American people in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and that our nation remains strong as we emerge on the other side of it. Here’s what he said:

“The American Rescue Plan gave schools money to hire teachers and help students make up for lost learning. I urge every parent to make sure your school does just that. And we can all play a part – sign up to be a tutor or a mentor.” – President Biden, State of the Union address, 3/1/22

The Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) maintains a dashboard that shows how our state’s public school systems have budgeted to use funds from three stimulus recovery packages totaling nearly $4 billion. School systems have great flexibility in how these funds are spent, as outlined in guidance issued to them by the LDOE (see page 5 for the long list of allowable expenses) and based on federal regulations. As of today, the site shows that $514.50 million or 13.5% of these funds have been spent.

Looking at tutoring specifically, Louisiana school systems have budgeted to spend $89.99 million for that purpose. The dashboard shows that, to date, $3.34 million or 3.7% of total funds budgeted for tutoring have been spent. Some school systems, including Ascension, Calcasieu, Rapides, and Ouachita, show zero dollars spent on tutoring thus far. The Ouachita Parish School System, for example, budgeted $12.35 million for tutoring, but has reported spending nothing yet.

Considering that students’ educational experiences have been turned upside down for nearly 24 months and LDOE documented an average of five percentage points of student learning loss statewide, particularly among our youngest learners, economically disadvantaged students, and in mathematics, the obvious question is why aren’t students getting the direct tutoring services they need? If schools are not offering tutoring, how are they using these large sums of recovery money to help students make up lost ground and move closer toward proficiency?

Education Week reported that in a fact sheet released in advance of the speech, the Biden administration said it would continue to encourage schools to spend relief funds to support “more individual and small group instruction, hire instructional and other critical staff, launch high-impact tutoring programs, provide high-quality after-school and summer learning and enrichment programs, and invest in other evidence-based strategies.”

Parents, educators, and communities need greater visibility into how these and other public funds are being spent and how activities funded are directly tied to identified needs and improving student outcomes. If recovery funds are not being spent or not able to be spent as initially planned for some reason, the public deserves to know why and local school leaders need to pivot quickly. Maybe it’s time to try something radically different, like offering large financial incentives for teachers who dramatically improve student achievement, hiring experienced, credentialed individuals from business and industry to serve as adjunct teachers, extending the length of the school day and/or school year, dramatically increasing the number of mental health professionals and require collaboration between them and classroom teachers, or giving funds directly to the parents of children who are struggling to pay for the academic and mental health supports they need.

Our children can’t wait. As this Brookings piece describes, we are losing a generation, not just in other states and in other countries, but right here in Louisiana:

“The future of a billion kids around the world is at risk. Unless we get them back in school again and find ways to remedy the effects of the interruption, COVID-19 will result in a huge setback for this generation. When the fallout of the coronavirus is finally tallied, it will become clear that its biggest damage is the lost learning of school-goers. A decade from now, we may look back and find that the biggest permanent loss of this pandemic was avoidable. We can act now and avoid regret.”

Let’s get to work. To use the final rallying cry of our President last night, “Go get ‘em.”