Funding Education Opportunity: To combat learning loss, schools need to use time more wisely
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Funding Education Opportunity Newsletter

Funding Education Opportunity: To combat learning loss, schools need to use time more wisely

Plus: School choice legislation news from Georgia, Louisiana, Nebraska, and more.

Good morning,

The COVID-19-induced school closures set off a new pandemic of its own that schools are still dealing with today–chronic absenteeism. During the closures, many students rarely or never logged onto the remote classes, some dropping out of school altogether. Even more concerning, these trends have continued.

New research from the American Enterprise Institute’s Nat Malkus revealed that public school students nationwide have missed school at unprecedented rates. The number of students missing at least 10 percent of a school year nearly doubled, “increasing from 15 percent in 2018 to 28 percent in 2022,” Malkus found

Even though K-12 students’ attendance increased during 2023, chronic absenteeism rates “remained 75 percent higher than the pre-pandemic baseline,” he wrote. If student attendance continues to slowly rebound, Malkus estimated that chronic absenteeism would not return to pre-pandemic rates until 2030.

Describing chronic absenteeism as the true “long COVID,” Malkus pointed out that missing school regularly exacerbates learning loss and lower test scores. Unfortunately, learning loss won’t just affect students’ grades. It will also affect their pocketbooks.  

Stanford University’s Eric Hanushek estimated that pandemic-induced learning loss could result in a five to six percent slump in students’ future earnings. In fact, Hanushek estimated that, on average, students in 33 states would experience an income loss of five percent or more.     

Kevin Mahnken wrote in The74, “If Hanushek’s analysis proves correct, those costs will be borne unevenly. The largest state economies, such as California, Texas, New York, Florida and Pennsylvania, are all projected to absorb losses greater than $500 billion; their disproportionate burden reflects both the scope of their learning setbacks to this point and the number of future workers living in each.”

Part of the solution to getting kids back on track is for schools to partner with parents to get students back in school, especially students from low-income families who were most negatively impacted by school closures. 

At the same time, school administrators need to ensure that school time is used efficiently to maximize student learning. Even though students spend as much time in U.S. schools than those in other advanced nations, they have less to show for it. 

This is partially due to the fact that U.S. schools often use school time very poorly. In his book, The Great School Rethink, the American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess noted that only about 60% of a school day is actually used for student instruction. “This means that a 1,080-hour school year amounts to a 650-hour school year,” Hess wrote.

Students lose time learning for a variety of reasons. In Providence, Rhode Island, researchers estimated that students lose 10-20 days of instructional time due to classroom disruptions, such as intercom announcements, staff visits, or student behavior. 

In other cases, unnecessary bureaucratic red tape encroaches on learning time. For example, an internal review of Nevada public schools found that each principal spends approximately 19 full workdays annually filling out duplicative teacher evaluations because of onerous laws.

Time is precious, but even more so for students who face lifelong ramifications due to learning loss. Hess’ research indicates that reducing avoidable classroom disruptions could be the most efficient way to help get students back on track. 

With more children missing school, the value of each school day increases significantly. Accordingly, educators need to ensure that each school day is maximized and that student time isn’t wasted. 

From the states

In other important education and school choice developments across the country, Georgia policymakers passed an education savings account proposal, Wyoming adopted a weakened income-based ESA, and the Louisiana House passed an income-based private school scholarship.

Georgia legislators passed Senate Bill 233, which would provide eligible recipients with a scholarship valued at $6,500 annually. According to the Georgia Recorder, the bill provides enough funding for approximately 21,500 students each year, while the program would expire after 10 years. Gov. Brian Kemp has yet to sign the bill.

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon signed House Enrolled Act 53 into law, providing education savings accounts valued up to $6,000 for families whose income is at or below 150% of the federal poverty level. However, Gov. Gordon eliminated provisions that would have expanded eligibility to students whose families exceeded that income threshold. The governor cited constitutional concerns as the reason for his line-item vetoes.

The Louisiana State Senate is reviewing House Bill 745, which was passed by the House. If passed and signed into law, the proposal would provide recipients with scholarships based on their family’s income. Scholarships for students from low-income families could be worth $7,500, those from middle- and upper-income families could be worth $5,200, and students with disabilities could receive scholarships valued at more than $15,000. Gov. Jeff Landry supports the bill.

In Nebraska, the legislature passed L.B. 1402 in its final round of reviews, which would establish education scholarships for students. The bill prioritizes applicants who are from low-income families, in foster care or have disabilities. Each scholarship amount would not exceed 75% of the state’s per-pupil formula. Gov. Jim Pillen has said he supports the proposal.

Despite last-minute negotiations last week, Tennessee’s voucher proposal is officially dead. Gov. Bill Lee said, “I am extremely disappointed for the families who will have to wait yet another year for the freedom to choose the right education for their child, especially when there is broad agreement that now is the time to bring universal school choice to Tennessee.” The governor added that legislative leaders expressed support for revisiting the bill next year.

What to watch

In Alaska, a circuit court judge ruled that the state’s correspondence program, established in 2014, is unconstitutional. More than 22,000 students currently use the program, which reimburses parents for education related expenses. The students using correspondence programs are homeschooled but under the authority of local school districts. The State Supreme Court may pick up the case. In the meantime, Rep. Justin Ruffridge, co-chair of the House Education Committee told the Alaska Beacon that this issue could “quickly become a No. 1 legislative priority.”

Texas school district employees face criminal charges for electioneering. Denton County Independent School District administrators were indicted after a whistleblower exposed emails allegedly sent by them telling other school district staff members how to vote in the March Republican primary election. State law prohibits school districts from using resources and state and local funds to electioneer for or against any candidate. The Texas American Federation of Teachers has defended the principals.

Recommended reading 

Arizona’s Battle Against School Choice for Special Needs
Aaron Garth Smith at Reason Magazine

“Suffice it to say the entire special education apparatus is rigged against students. IDEA only provides accountability if parents have the time, financial means, and doggedness to navigate a highly bureaucratic system that’s tilted against them. But even then, nothing is guaranteed—California’s Irvine Unified School District spent over $1 million in legal fees fighting a single family just to make a point to other parents.”

The Public Purposes of Private Education: a Civic Outcomes Meta-Analysis
M. Danish Shakeel, Patrick J. Wolf, Alison Heape Johnson, Mattie A. Harris & Sarah R. Morris at Educational Psychology Review

“Our search identifies 13,301 initial target studies, ultimately yielding 531 effects from 57 qualified studies drawing from 40 different databases. Using Robust Variance Estimation, we determine that, on average, private schooling boosts any civic outcome by 0.055 standard deviations over public schooling. Religious private schooling, particularly, is strongly associated with positive civic outcomes. The evidence is especially strong that private schooling is correlated with higher levels of political tolerance and political knowledge and skills.”

Exclusive: Microschools Fill Niche for Students with Disabilities, Survey Shows
Linda Jacobson at The74

“Almost two-thirds of operators say their programs draw students considered neurodivergent, according to the latest snapshot of the movement from the National Microschooling Center, an advocacy organization. The survey of 400 microschool founders in 41 states also shows that children with other disabilities represent one of the next largest populations served, with 53% of school operators reporting that these students are enrolled in their schools.”