Opinion: Expanded school choice can help pandemic learning losses

Opinion: Expanded school choice can help pandemic learning losses

In The News

Opinion: Expanded school choice can help pandemic learning losses

Buzz Brockway, a former Republican legislator from Gwinnett, is vice president of public policy for the right-leaning think tank Georgia Center for Opportunity, which promotes school choice.

In this guest column, Brockway discusses solutions to pandemic learning loss.

Georgia students are flocking back to their classrooms, but in addition to the usual assortment of back-to-school supplies, kids are taking something else with them — profound learning losses from the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A 2022 research brief reveals that K-2 students are the greatest victims of learning loss. Furthermore, the literacy gap between minority and white students is now larger post-pandemic. Parents and teachers know that the earliest years of instruction are often the most impactful.

We Must Close The Grade Level Gap

We Must Close The Grade Level Gap

students elementary

We Must Close The Grade Level Gap

Key Points

  • Voters are not saying other issues, such as race and gender, are not important, just that learning loss is more important.
  • We can’t be thinking of this as a one-year catch-up.
  • There are other interventions that have been shown to have effects, it’s just that no single intervention gets you all the way. 

It has been well documented that school closing due to the pandemic caused students to lose ground (see here and here). Recent polling suggests that parents are very concerned about this learning loss and want political leaders to focus on this issue.

Consider this from The74Million.com:

Matt Hogan, a partner at Impact Research, said that it was striking to see Republicans seize an edge on an issue that “has historically been one of the Democrats’ strengths.” 

“There’s just a perception that Democrats’ focus on education is not where voters want it to be, which is helping kids make up the ground they lost,” Hogan said. “They think both parties are too focused on race and gender issues in schools, rather than focusing on catching kids up — but notably, they think that is true of Democrats even more so than Republicans.”

Notice that voters are not saying other issues, such as race and gender, are not important, just that learning loss is more important. Yet as we survey the political landscape, very few politicians or candidates are talking about what parents are most concerned about. 

Perhaps this is because there is no magic wand that can be waived to fix the problem. There is no list of “five easy steps to catch your kids up, and number four will blow your mind.” There are, however, things that can and should be done immediately.

Recently, Harvard economist Tom Kane produced a study of the impact of learning loss and proposed solutions. Kane’s research found that one-on-one tutoring was effective, but not effective enough to eliminate the learning loss for students in schools that were closed most of the 2020-2021 school year. Schools, he said, should plan on implementing learning recovery strategies for multiple years. Kane said:

So what can schools and districts realistically be expected to do in this situation? 

We can’t be thinking of this as a one-year catch-up. If we really are committed to making students whole and eliminating these losses, it’s going to be multiple years. There are other interventions that have been shown to have effects, it’s just that no single intervention gets you all the way. 

In March, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 which included substantial funding for education. However, only 20% of those funds are required to be spent on recovering learning loss. Kane suggests districts spend more than 20% or perhaps all of their ARPA funds on learning loss recovery:

We try to put the scale of the [learning] losses and the amount of aid that districts have received in the same scale. We report both as a share of an annual school district budget, which I think is a useful starting point for thinking about what it’s going to cost a district to recover. If a district has lost the equivalent of, say, 22 weeks of instruction as a result of being remote, and you’re asking what it’s going to cost to make up for that, the lower bound of the estimated cost would have to start with [the question], “What does it cost to provide 22 weeks of instruction in a typical school year?”

We think that’s a useful starting point for people, and what they’d see is that in the high-poverty districts that were remote for more than half of 2021, the amount of aid they received is basically equivalent to — maybe a little more, but not much more than — the magnitude of their losses in terms of instructional weeks. That just means that, rather than spending the 20 percent minimum that was required in the American Rescue Plan, some districts should be thinking that they’ll need all of that aid for academic catch-up.

Imagine how much better off our society would be if politicians and school leaders truly committed to not only eliminating the pandemic learning loss, but using those interventions to insure every student is on grade level. How wonderful would that be?

Imagine how much better off our society would be if politicians and school leaders truly committed to not only eliminating the pandemic learning loss, but using those interventions to insure every student is on grade level. How wonderful would that be?

Additionally, empowering parents to choose a school that best fits their child, be it traditional public school, tuition-free charter school, private school, or homeschool, should also be a tool we deploy to help get kids caught up. 

Polling has made it clear that parents want learning loss recovery to be a high priority for their child’s school. In this election year, candidates and elected officials would be wise to make this an issue in their campaigns. Parents should demand this of their candidates, and then hold them accountable to eliminating learning loss for every student. 

Imagine how much better off our society would be if politicians and school leaders truly committed to not only eliminating the pandemic learning loss, but using those interventions to insure every student is on grade level. How wonderful would that be?

Don’t miss our upcoming family Breakthrough event

Don’t miss our upcoming family Breakthrough event

family breakthrough

Don’t miss our upcoming family Breakthrough event

Transforming broken relationships into flourishing families

Key Points

  • Many people are experiencing broken relationships at home, work, and school.

  • Helping people have healthy relationships will result in nothing less than full community transformation.

  • The event is on Thursday, August 25, from 10:30am to 12:30pm at Sonesta Gwinnett Place Atlanta in Duluth, Georgia.

Family makes us stronger

The world is filled with negative headlines right now. These headlines reflect the real pain we’re all experiencing in our communities. Today, more than ever, we are experiencing broken relationships at home, work, and school.

In dating relationships, Pew Research tells us that nearly half of U.S. adults say dating has gotten harder for most people in the last 10 years. As for relationships at work, Gallup finds that 60% of people are emotionally detached at work and 19% are miserable. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to increased rates of divorce.

We know that a key way to restore community health is by fostering healthy relationships. These relationships are the bedrock of our culture. When they suffer, we all suffer. Helping people have healthy relationships will result in nothing less than full community transformation.

That’s the theme of an upcoming Breakthrough event focused on family and relational health sponsored by the Georgia Center for Opportunity. The event is on Thursday, August 25, from 10:30am to 12:30pm at Sonesta Gwinnett Place Atlanta in Duluth, Georgia.

At the event, we will do a deep dive into the Attitudes, Behaviors, and Choices (ABCs)  of individuals and families and how those relate to relational and, more broadly, community health. You don’t want to miss it!

 

Speakers at the event include:

  • Kristen Hypolite, COO of Every Woman Works
  • Dr. Natalie Looney, Principal of Summerour Middle School
  • Michael Doyne, Parent Instructional Coordinator at Lilburn Middle School

  • Ian Rowe, Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute

Family makes us stronger

Each of us has within us the option of having the right attitude will drive our behavior which allows us to make better choices. When you leave the session, you’ll have a deeper understanding of what family formation means and the reason it is important.

We are inviting everyone to attend, whether you represent a school, a church, a government agency, institution of local government, or nonprofit, we want you at this event.

 

Gwinnett Coalition celebrates work of Gwinnett Cares effort during COVID-19 pandemic

Gwinnett Coalition celebrates work of Gwinnett Cares effort during COVID-19 pandemic

In The News

Gwinnett Coalition celebrates work of Gwinnett Cares effort during COVID-19 pandemic

Gwinnett community leaders recently came together to mark the accomplishments of the Gwinnett Cares effort during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, more than 10,000 people facing eviction and homelessness have been helped by HomeFirst Gwinnett and its partners, and $75 million has been spent to help more than 21,000 residents who faced the possibility of their utilities being disconnected. HomeFirst Gwinnett Director Matt Elder also highlighted the construction of 117 new affordable housing units. The Georgia Center for Opportunity’s Better Work Gwinnett program also worked to addressed unemployment, which spiked to about 15% during the pandemic but was eventually reduced to about 2.1%.

Why Nonprofits Should Care and What to Do

Why Nonprofits Should Care and What to Do

Why Nonprofits Should Care and What to Do

mother and baby
Key Takeaways:
  • Welfare cliffs and marriage penalties are discouraging people from work and forming families.
  • The cliffs and penalties may mean that our clients are locked into poverty for much longer than they would be otherwise and despite our best efforts.
  • GCO has created a platform that allows anyone to see when a particular family can expect to experience benefit cliffs as they earn more money through work. 

Important Link: BenefitsCliff.org

 

If you work in a nonprofit serving the poor, you need to know that the government benefits your clients receive are likely discouraging them from working or forming a family, two things that research shows could lift them out of poverty the fastest. 

This is an especially tough problem for nonprofits, like GCO, that work to get their clients into good-paying jobs and strengthen their family relationships.

What’s going on?

These disincentives to work are often called “welfare cliffs” and the disincentives to family formation are called “marriage penalties.” Essentially, “cliffs” are generated any time a person receiving government benefits gets a raise at work that causes them to lose more in benefits than they will earn in additional income from the raise. These same individuals can face a similar financial penalty IF they decide to marry. In many cases, they will lose more in benefits than their spouse is able to provide in new income to the household.

While you would think (hope?) cliffs and penalties are rare, they are not. Instead, they are baked into the structure of nearly all welfare programs and many of the cliffs are severe. It’s also important to know that welfare recipients don’t face a single cliff or a single penalty, but they face cliffs and penalties at a number of different points as they have additional income from working or through marriage.

Why does it matter?

For nonprofit leaders, the cliffs and penalties may mean that our clients are locked into poverty for much longer than they would be otherwise and despite our best efforts. For workforce development nonprofits, cliffs could be the underlying reason why your clients don’t pick up additional work hours when they are offered or seem less than excited when they are offered a good promotion. In extreme cases, clients may quit jobs that seemed like a perfect fit simply because they panic when they learn they may lose a major benefit – like housing or childcare.

For nonprofits trying to help strengthen family relationships, marriage penalties may be driving behavior that is otherwise inexplicable, like seemingly happy couples refusing to marry or live in the same home. These dynamics can lead to stress for the couples affected and to a sense that a parent (usually the father) has abandoned the family when, if the system would allow it, he would be in the home. In these cases, children pay the biggest price.

What can you do about it?

Fortunately, we have created a platform that allows anyone to see when a particular family can expect to experience benefit cliffs as they earn more money through work. For nonprofits working with these families, you now have a tool (available for 10 states, with two more on the way) that will allow you to help your clients plan for the future. In some cases, knowing when cliffs are likely to happen will allow your clients to seek a larger raise that will help them bypass or leapfrog a cliff. In other cases, maybe the answer is seeking additional training or certifications that will get your client into a different payscale entirely – one that avoids the cliffs.

In the coming weeks, we will be adding a tool that will allow users to see the impact of penalties on couples who decide to marry. We will also be incorporating a solutions tool that will allow anyone to see how reforming our government benefit programs can actually eliminate cliffs and penalties entirely, giving recipients every reason to pursue work and form stable households.

For GCO, it is this last point – reforming the system – that remains the ultimate goal. In the meantime, we are looking for ways to mitigate the harm caused by the welfare system, so that as many people as possible can escape the system and break cycles of poverty now.



The Success Sequence provides an outline of how to reverse the cycle of poverty in our communities. GCO uses this as a framework for much of our work.

Passed: House Bill 517

Passed: House Bill 517

Passed: House Bill 517

grad hats

The Georgia General Assembly passed a bill, which increases the cap on our state’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program

On Monday, the Georgia General Assembly passed House Bill 517, which increases the cap on our state’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program from $100 million to $120 million per year. HB517 also doubles the amount individuals, LLCs, and S Corporations may contribute and removes the automatic sunset of the program.
The Georgia Center for Opportunity’s (GCO) take: “The real beneficiaries of this legislation are the thousands of Georgia kids who will benefit from expanded access to a great education,” said Buzz Brockway, vice president of GCO. “We commend lawmakers for taking these important steps forward to strengthen the tax-credit program. At the same time, we’re disappointed the Senate retreated from raising the cap to $200 million as passed by the House. The new $20 million increase is a marginal gain and appreciated, but the program needs dramatically increased capacity. Our hope is that lawmakers will raise the cap even further in the next legislative session.”

 

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