As a mother and an educator, I know that learning loss during the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated and laid bare opportunity gaps that have long existed in our society, and especially in our schools.
While both Colorado and the federal government are pumping money into school systems to address these issues, I fear that it will come too late to undo the damage that has been done over the past 15 months.
And I am distressed that some of the local school districts with the largest numbers of underserved children have not transparently shared plans on how to address learning loss aggressively this summer, when the help might make a difference and is desperately needed.
To date, Colorado has received or been promised well over $1 billion in federal funds through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. This money can be used for a wide variety of purposes, including mitigating learning loss.
In addition, Colorado House Bill 21-1234, if passed this session, aims to provide just under $5 million in grants to local education providers for high-impact tutoring to address learning loss brought about by the pandemic. That money, however, most likely won’t be available in time to address needs this summer.
I feel it is imperative that school districts use this money in ways that will most directly benefit students. This should include offering high quality full-time summer school to any students who wish to attend. Federal funds should be used to pay teachers at their regular rate if they are willing to work through the summer.
Unfortunately, it is already June and I – along with many other parents and community members – have heard little about such plans being made, let alone implemented.
Use some stimulus funds to put cash money in the hands of parents. Require school districts, cities, and towns to create an easily accessible list of options that would allow parents to find high quality summer learning opportunities for their children. This could include paying teachers to staff small learning pods.
Several forward-thinking nonprofits, including the African Leadership Group, are already planning to hold summer tutoring programs to help their children make up some of what they’ve lost this year. But as noble as these efforts are, they lack the reach to touch all the children who need help.
It is important to state again that federal and state officials must also insist on full, public transparency on how public dollars are used by school districts to address all Covid-related issues, but especially learning loss. Districts must be required to report how they will use the funds to provide students with evidence-based learning plans.
These reports should include detailed, line-by-line reports on expenditures. Otherwise, I fear, some of this money will be wasted or siphoned off for other purposes.
It is indeed a wonderful thing that the federal government has recognized the depth of the crisis we are facing and has delivered massive amounts of money to address issues including learning loss.
Now it is up to all of us to insist that this money be spent wisely, and that we waste no time in getting programs launched and funds distributed so that this summer is not wasted as well.