Public Comment on The Connecticut State Department of Education Plan for the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund
Amy Dowell, State Director, Education Reform Now CT
May 19, 2021
To Whom It May Concern,
Thank you for offering this opportunity to participate in the process of planning for these essential COVID-19 relief funds. I appreciate that the State Department of Education will be receiving a myriad of ideas, requests, and proposals regarding recommended uses for the $110 million state set aside from the American Rescue Plan. The Department must choose a path that will best leverage these federal funds in a strategic way, and offering specifics will, of course, be essential to help districts navigating this new revenue on a short runway. Operating on the assumption that all districts are “unique and different” exacerbates a “separate but equal” standard for students and creates duplicative, wasteful spending. More guidance, not less, is in order.
Therefore, rather than experimenting with programming, I urge you to plan for investments that: (1) are realistic, (2) are evidence-based; and (3) target students' academic and social needs for the long-term.
Specifically, regarding the State Learning Loss funds and the State Education Agency Flex Funds, the Department should prioritize:
Investments in the Center for Literacy Research and Reading Success and research based literacy supports, which is contemplated in H.B. 6620, a bill that is moving through the legislative process this session with significant momentum. The pandemic has exacerbated what had already been a literacy crisis in Connecticut schools, with nearly half of third graders missing grade-level expectations in English Language Arts, wide gaps along racial lines, and growing special education costs. The state should use learning loss and flex funds to prioritize seed money for this Center, in order to establish and implement a statewide, evidence-based early literacy strategy that will both meet this moment of academic struggle for students and set up the state for additional federal resources once the period of pandemic recovery has ended.
One-time, state-negotiated contracts for physical school facilities and technology—in areas such as air quality control, computer labs, and wifi for school buses. Keeping schools safely open for in-person learning and being prepared with up-to-date technology are preconditions of learning for students. The Department should therefore use learning loss funds and flex funds to make strategic investments in these areas, using economies of scale to negotiate contracts on behalf of local districts.
Encouraging districts to increase academic interventions for students who are most at risk. We were pleased to see that “high-quality tutoring” was listed among the menu of "implementable initiatives and resources" in the Department's May 9th guidance to districts. High-dosage tutoring is a style of consistently embedded, daily instruction that has been proven to work when it matches students and tutors for the full year, and when it's kept to very small groups. The Department should do its best to direct districts towards this precise form of intervention so that they can meet individual students where they are and address inequities.
Strategic Investments in Minority Teacher Recruitment and Training Programs. Diversifying the teacher workforce is an evidence-based strategy for improving academic and social outcomes for students of color, but all students ultimately benefit from exposure to diverse role models. The Department should direct a portion of learning loss and flex funds towards increased scholarships and loan forgiveness for teachers of color and scaling cohort systems of social and professional support for teachers of color. In addition, the Department should use publicly tracked data and benchmarks to begin holding teacher preparation programs responsible for active recruitment and graduation of diverse cohorts.
Developing a Library of High-Quality Wraparound Service Providers. Districts are constantly being offered help from unvetted vendors. The Department can support local efforts and encourage realistic, effective, and targeted investments by identifying public and private vendors who have been shown to provide high-quality programming; publishing an up-to-date library of state-approved vendors; and using incentives such as matching to encourage local districts to choose from this approved list.
These efforts are likely to be implemented with fidelity (realistic); advance evidence-based programming that demonstrably improves academic and social outcomes for students (effective); and will have a long-term impact on learning loss, academic needs, and the social implications of COVID-19 (targeted at students). Connecticut has a once-in-a-generation chance to offer a clear directive and prioritize what we know will produce wins for students. Students have missed so much over the last year. We owe them more than a guide; we owe them a plan.
State Director, Education Reform Now CT