How are federal COVID recovery dollars being used to reverse student learning loss?
A few weeks ago, we wrote about Louisiana public school students’ performance on the 2022 Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (LEAP) test and what their scores tell us about learning loss since the COVID-19 pandemic. The takeaway was that, while results show improvement over the prior year, Louisiana remains far from being fully recovered. Only three school systems in the state have recovered back to or surpassed their pre-pandemic performance. Critical progress achieved over the past few decades has been lost, and educators are struggling to make it up.
Twenty-seven school systems experienced a drop of more than five percentage points in the percentage of students at or above proficiency (Mastery or above) on the LEAP:
The federal government infused $4 billion into Louisiana schools to help them “prevent, prepare for, and respond to” the COVID-19 pandemic. Ninety percent of these funds flow directly to local school systems and can be used through September 2024. An update on how schools are spending these funds was presented by the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) to the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education earlier this summer. While 98% of funds have been obligated and the LDOE claims that spend down rates align with national trends, a lot of money remains unspent. A LOT, as you’ll see below.
Source: Louisiana Department of Education
School systems are able to spend funds on direct student academic supports that LDOE refers to as “recovery and acceleration.” Funds may be budgeted in the following categories: tutoring, evidence-based academic activities, summer learning and enrichment, and additional learning time.
They are also able to spend funds on things like attendance and well-being, professional development for teachers and staff, early childhood programming, data infrastructure, and school safety and operations. Interestingly, that latter category, which is where some school systems chose to budget a lot of funds, includes things like supporting universal and correct wearing of masks, handwashing, ventilation, and even enhancing security cameras to support contact tracing. Those might have been the most pressing needs in 2020, but are they the biggest priorities today?
Given current student needs, what is the most appropriate use of the money? How can Louisiana schools use what many have called a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, given this large amount of funding, to make a significant positive difference?
The LDOE has published local school systems’ approved recovery plans, which are required for them to draw down Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) II and III dollars, the two most recent installments in the federal recovery funds package.
In the coming weeks, we’ll examine how school systems – particularly those with students farthest below grade level and students who have the most academic ground to regain – are spending these dollars. We’ll offer some thoughts and recommendations, and we know that as taxpayers, parents, and concerned citizens, you will too. If you want to take a look now, check out this LDOE dashboard that shows how much funding each local school system has received, how funds have been budgeted, and how much has (or hasn’t) been spent. No one wants to look back on this moment and say, “what a shame.” We want, “What a comeback!” Or better yet, “Look at Louisiana’s gains!” That’s the commitment Louisiana’s kids need and deserve, and that’s what it’s going to take to get our state moving forward.