Accelerating Learning to Promote Equity: Challenges and Strategies in the Midst of a Pandemic

Fiscal Context

Zhou, T., Molfino, T., & Travers, J. (2021, January 13). The cost of COVID: Understanding the full financial impact of COVID-19 on districts and schools. Education Resource Strategies. Available at https://www.erstrategies.org/cms/files/4699-cost-of-covid-paper-final.pdf

The authors calculate the short- and long-term cost of COVID-19 on schools and districts. They frame their estimates around what they call the “triple squeeze” to acknowledge that budgets were already inadequate before the pandemic due to increasing costs, decreasing revenues, and the growing needs of students. The authors provide estimates for how COVID-19 will impact school budgets for the next five years and descriptions of each assumption they make. Additionally, they estimate the costs of specific interventions (e.g., increased socio-emotional supports for students, high-dosage tutoring) to return students to pre-pandemic achievement rates, but even more money would be needed to address pre-pandemic disparities. They conclude with recommendations for policymakers to not only increase financial support to districts, but also decrease bureaucracy that can hinder school and district leaders from being flexible and responsive in our ever-changing context.

Alferes, M. (2021, January). The 2021–22 budget: Extended learning and academic support. Legislative Analyst’s Office. Available at https://lao.ca.gov/reports/2021/4326/Extended-Learing-Academic-Support-012921.pdf

After providing a brief background on school closures since the COVID-19 pandemic began, this article explains and analyzes the Governor’s January budget proposal, then makes recommendations for the California legislature moving forward. The January budget contains $4.6 billion one-time funds for supporting students’ learning recovery, and the Governor asked that the money be given to districts this spring. The funds can be used for many different learning supports but a district must publicly report to the state superintendent how they plan to use the funds. The author supports the Governor’s request that the monies be distributed early and estimate that, along with expected federal support, districts will receive $10.6 billion in one-time funds. They also predict that districts will need support with planning how they will use the funds and that the state will include incentives for districts to use evidence-based practices for recovering learning. The author recommends that the legislature provide additional funding for smaller and more specific academic supports (e.g., summer and in-person instruction), as well as continue to help districts pay for increasing deferral and pension costs unrelated to the pandemic.

Partnership for Los Angeles Schools. (2021, January). Worth it: Eight ways to prioritize equity in LA Unified’s budget. Available at https://partnershipla.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Worth-It-Web-Final-Jan-15-2021.pdf

As legislative support and awareness of injustices in marginalized communities increases, ensuring adequate and equitable resource allocation to schools is vital. Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) Student Equity Need Index (SENI) describes a framework the district uses to ensure fair resource allocation. The SENI is an index that incorporates each school’s levels of homelessness, student achievement results, school climate ratings, and neighborhood conditions. The SENI is used to determine the distribution of a quarter of LAUSD’s Local Control Funding Formula supplemental and concentration funds. Still, the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools suggests a more aggressive approach to supporting high needs schools, including doubling the SENI budget, using SENI as the basis for the distribution of other funding streams, making cuts in other areas, and redistributing funds when equitable programs sunset.