The growing education funding crisis affects American students and the economy

Old Warner Bros. cartoons, Wile E. It depicted the coyote chasing his prey (usually a roadrunner) so hard that he didn’t realize he was running from a ditch until it was too late. Unlike the animated characters, the US public education system is well aware that it is headed for a fiscal cliff at a time when students are still suffering from the post-Covid academic slump. This potential challenge may be felt most keenly in the southern United States.

A report released by the Southern Education Foundation last year, Economic Vitality and Education in the South,(EVES) showed that students from Black, Brown and low-income families are more likely than their peers to struggle academically due to underfunded and under-resourced schools. The pandemic compounded those challenges. In addition, students’ access to nutritious food, up-to-date technology, reliable Internet service, and educational and emotional professional support are non-school factors that affect students’ academic achievement.

While halting federal funding to address epidemic learning disabilities is bad for Coyote, it presents a historic opportunity for Southern states to lean into these challenges and show the rest of the country how to improve education at this critical juncture.

Through the Federal CARES Act of 2020, Congress made an unprecedented move by providing a total of $190 billion in federal pandemic aid to schools known as Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER). By September 2024, school districts have been given instructions on how to spend the final portion of that funding. Hard decisions about how to do without this federal support In the coming years.

„Many benefits have come out of these investments,” said Joseph Trawick-Smith, partner at Educational Resource Strategies (ERS). Many districts have used ESSER funds to invest in instruction, curriculum materials and assessments, instructional resources, and other tools that directly support students and are aligned with research on learning acceleration. -Smith points out.

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This unprecedented infusion of funds left many education leaders seeking guidance on school staffing, costs and planning. ERS is one of many organizations that have developed resources to help navigate this new territory. Its ESSER Guidelines for School Staffing, Costing and Planning Along with real-life examples, it includes proven practices that ERS has used to help districts get up and running with ESSER dollars.

Research-based training is one that stands out.

In ERS Training Guidebook, Keri Randolph, chief strategy officer for Metro Nashville Public Schools, explains how her students benefited from training with the same instructor for 30 minutes, three times a week, for 10 weeks. „Research is very important. We don’t have many interventions or strategies in education that are as robust on impact as high-volume training,” he said.

In most school districts, these types of initiatives are possible because of a dramatic one-time increase in revenue. Nationally, the temporary funding for post-pandemic aid is four times what the federal government typically spends on schools in a year. The Education Lab at Georgetown University Once that appropriation is gone, schools across the country will see $60 billion in annual spending cuts. That brings it down to an average of $1,200 per student.

According to the school funding formulas outlined in the EVES report and other sources, to maintain post-ESSER spending levels, state budgets would need to be cut by nearly one-fifth without significant use of additional revenue or reserves. Academic week detected 15 states, all but two of them in the South, have the nation’s highest epidemic relief funds relative to overall spending and the largest shares of students in poverty and high-poverty school districts.

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As the ESSER spending window closes soon, many leaders are thinking about how to make the most of what’s left before the deadline. If they’re not careful, they’ll be more concerned with how to spend funds quickly than with deliberate investment in evidence-based practices that students need most and promote long-term sustainability.

Trawick-Smith said the most urgent focus for school districts now is to increase the use of remaining appropriations by investing. Strategies that have the greatest potential to drive student outcomes.

The second – and equally essential – aspect of the financial cliff is creating a plan for sustainability.

„Many districts are trying to figure out how to leverage their ESSER investments in 24-’25 with the least amount of disruption to students, families and staff,” Dravik-Smith said. „While it’s true that many districts need to cut costs, we encourage them to use a critical lens. All The dollars they spend are not the only ones funded by ESSER.

Trawick-Smith notes that legacy spending in districts often doesn’t have a clear connection to student outcomes. Districts should use this as a moment to reevaluate old practices and reallocate resources toward strategies known to get results.

Dravik-Smith said it’s not just about cutting budgets, it’s about fundamentally rethinking the way schools are designed. For example, Mesa Public Schools in Arizona There has been a shift away from the model of one teacher per classroom to a more dynamic team model with different roles and responsibilities for teachers. Teams of educators work alongside students, allowing teachers to provide targeted interventions and small group instruction at times of greatest need.

„Admittedly, you can’t flip a switch and completely change the design of a school. It’s hard. It takes time and deliberate planning. But without doing that work, many districts will find themselves back in the same place two or three years down the road,” Dravik said. Smith said.

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At the same time, recent data shows that students are not recovering from their Covid-era academic setbacks fast enough.

Data released in July NWEA, from the test provider, indicates that students have not recovered from the academic effects of the pandemic, allowing them to catch up in math and reading. The NWEA report examined the test scores of 6.7 million US public school students in grades 3-8. And they found that students were still progressing at a slower rate than they did pre-Covid. Education researchers agree that this is the way to address these essential skills and knowledge gaps Make students progress faster.

The achievement gap affects students by increasing dropout rates, which in turn costs the nation $700 billion to $1 trillion annually.

Clearly, if a significant number of students are allowed to fall further behind, the nation will pay the price in terms of reduced economic competitiveness and fewer young people prepared to meet the nation’s human capital needs.

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