State Releases Plans to Help Students Recover Academically from the Pandemic

This week the Louisiana Department of Education released its plans for how the state’s school districts should spend the nearly $4 billion in federal relief money coming into the state as a result of the pandemic. About 90% of those revenues will be going to local school districts which were given broad latitude by the federal government for using those dollars. But a recent law passed by the Legislature should give state leaders a stronger say in how the funds are targeted and an added layer of transparency should allow citizens to see where the money is going.

Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley refers to it as the Louisiana Comeback Campaign and its aim is to focus on ways to help recover the student learning loss that occurred over the last 18 months due to the pandemic. Recent data released by the Department show test scores following the last school year fell by an average of 5-percentage points.

With the new school year opening amid another cloud of uncertainty, it is crucial that students get all the support and assistance they can to help them catch up. That’s what this plan seeks to do.

It focuses in three areas. The first emphasizes student wellbeing in the classroom setting. It’s been widely reported that the pandemic has created mental health challenges for many students whose lives and educations have been disrupted by COVID. This seeks to address those issues.

The plan also pays significant attention to recovering from learning loss and working to get students back to where they need to be and on track to mastering their subject matters. It does this through a strong emphasis on tutoring, literacy interventions, and robust after school and summer programs.

The final piece is aimed at educators, with a particular focus on addressing the growing crisis surrounding early literacy for young students and how teachers can turn that around through strong professional learning and training experiences.

Act 294 of this year’s legislative session requires districts to develop education plans for providing expanded support to students who failed to achieve the level of Mastery on recent standardized tests. The state is required to review and approve those plans, and that’s a good thing.

While the federal government gave local districts tremendous autonomy for using the pandemic relief funds, the truth is we are talking billions of dollars and many of our districts need the support and assistance of the state to make sure those funds are used wisely, maximize student success, and are part of a statewide framework that can have an impact in every district across the state.

The Louisiana Department of Education is adding a component which should be welcomed by all who care about helping our kids through this crisis. It’s a “fiscal dashboard” that will show how the dollars are being spent in every school district and allow parents and citizens to see whether they are targeting areas that will be the most beneficial for students.

That piece is still in the works, but a portion of the dashboard is online now that allows you to select any school district and see how much money is being sent to the district in each of the three allocations. It’s worth a look at your district because the dollar amounts are significant.

The recent release of test scores has shown this pandemic has taken a toll on all our students, but particularly those who are economically-disadvantaged, received most of their instruction in virtual settings, and children of color. Fewer of our students are performing at grade level and more of our students have fallen to the level of Unsatisfactory.

This is no one’s fault. Every district in the state was impacted by the unprecedented disruptions caused by COVID-19. The focus now needs to be on dealing with the consequences. Our schools have resources like never before to address the issues faced by our students. It’s not an exaggeration to say an entire generation of young people has been put at risk by this pandemic.

It appears state leaders have developed a strong plan for recovery. We should all monitor its progress, keep an eye on how the money is being spent, and ensure that at every step of the way school districts are putting our children first.

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