Since COVID-19 caused many schools to close or move to hybrid schedules over the past year, state lawmakers have looked for ways to help students and families by reimagining and accelerating learning. Policymakers have tackled the challenge of unfinished learning with a variety of approaches, often through legislation that leverages quality afterschool and summer programs to engage students socially, emotionally and academically.
Expanding Summer Programs
Some lawmakers have proposed legislation that directs the state education agency’s approach. Hawaii is currently considering House Resolution 11, which urges the board of education to support and implement afterschool programs to combat learning loss.
Some states are expanding summer programs to offset the pandemic’s impact on students. New Jersey legislators are considering Senate Bill 3531, which would require that summer programs be available the summer before entering grades kindergarten through 12. The summer program would also be required to provide high-quality learning experiences with a focus on language, literacy, mathematics and social and emotional readiness. The program would provide additional family support and resources, as applicable, to assist participating students.
Grant programs are another approach states are considering. Minnesota’s House Bill 4 and Senate Bill 64 will appropriate money for grants to expand existing afterschool and summer programs. The afterschool network would administer the grant program. Preference would be given to programs that serve communities of color; programs that have staff members who reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of students served; and programs serving kids on hybrid or remote learning. These bills also favor expanding school-community partnerships. Additionally, a program that receives funds must provide social and emotional learning supports for students. Other states, including Indiana and Connecticut, are also considering this approach.
Some pending legislation would require recovery plans. Rhode Island’s House Bill 5834 directs all school districts to prepare recovery plans that must include strategies and targets to address student academic and social-emotional learning losses. However, some of the recovery plan suggestions include a focus on extended school day strategies; targeted academic intervention; expanded access for all students to education programs offered in the district; development of a districtwide attendance recovery team; and SEL supports and/or professional development.
North Carolina recently passed House Bill 82, establishing school extension learning recovery and enrichment programs in each local school district to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on at-risk students and to require the implementation of innovative benchmark assessments. It mandates that districts offer students at least 150 hours of summer instruction, as well as sports and enrichment activities. Students would not be required to attend, but districts are expected to target programs toward students most at risk. Additionally, the bill includes funding for transportation and lunch to help make programs more accessible.
Another policy trend is leveraging summer and afterschool programs to help with literacy. In 2020, Nevada passed Assembly Bill 3, which provides additional funding for evidence-based and school-based literacy initiatives for students enrolled in kindergarten through third grade. The bill also includes literacy-based professional development for school personnel providing summer programs for students.
Tennessee currently has a multipronged approach to address learning loss with three enacted bills. The state has established a nine-member task force with House Bill 2470 to focus on education recovery and innovation. It also will examine the short- and long-term systemic effects that COVID-19 and natural disasters have had on the state’s educational systems. The task force will advise and make recommendations based on its findings. Its preliminary report, released in December last year, notes that “a great deal of work was undertaken by districts and teachers across the state to demonstrate how they would continue to teach students in the pandemic environment.” The task force will submit its final report to the General Assembly, along with its findings and recommendations, by Jan.. 1, 2022.
Tennessee also passed House Bill 7004, the Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act. Local education agencies and public charter schools are now required to implement a program of afterschool mini camps, learning loss bridge camps and summer learning camps to remediate student learning loss. The bill also requires that the state education agency develop and implement a benchmarking and assessment system for the camps. A new tutoring program, the Tennessee Accelerating Literacy and Learning Corps, includes statewide initiatives to recruit high-quality tutors, provide training and ongoing professional development for members, and develop materials for tutoring students.
Finally, Tennessee has enacted Senate Bill 7019, which requires the state education agency to direct each local board of education and charter school governing body to develop a plan to conduct mental and behavioral health screenings for all students in grades K through eight. These screenings aim to evaluate the impact of the pandemic on students’ mental and behavioral health, and any resulting learning loss.
Autumn Rivera is a research analyst with NCSL’s Education Program.