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"Right to Read" Implementation, ESSER Expenditures, CT Businesses Invest in College

An Update on “Right to Read” Implementation

On Thursday, Chalkbeat reported that New York City (NYC) Mayor Eric Adams has announced an ambitious plan requiring all elementary schools to adopt a phonics-based reading program in kindergarten through second grade and begin early screening for dyslexia this coming year. “This is our opportunity to really move the needle on something that has been impactful for our children for a long time,” Adams said. NYC School Chancellor David Banks also acknowledged that too many schools were using a balanced literacy approach. He specifically called out the debunked Lucy Calkins Columbia Teachers College program; indeed, it has been shown to be ineffective in several comprehensive studies. Now, NYC's education department—which the article says usually defers to principals on curriculum choices—will reportedly recommend several phonics-based curricula from which teachers may choose.

Sound familiar? Connecticut’s own “Right to Read” legislation—passed almost a year ago—will also require all districts to implement evidence-based curricula from among a list that will be pre-approved by the state by the fall of 2023. These approved programs, aligned with the bill’s intentions, should include structured literacy approaches. The criteria for approval should exclude programs that rely upon the practices that extensive research has shown to be ineffective—like the cuing, memorization, and use of leveled texts traditionally seen in popular programs such as Fountas and Pinnell or Calkins/Reading Workshop. (See Colorado’s approved list as an example). Districts seeking waivers next year will need to show that their selected alternatives also rely on research-based approaches.

The legislation also established a Center for Literacy Research and Reading Success to oversee a statewide response to early literacy, as well as a 13-member Reading Leadership Implementation Council to advise the Center. The Council, which has been meeting regularly this year, convened again just last week. During that meeting, the Connecticut State Department of Education announced that it has officially established an open review period between May 4 - May 25, during which districts and publishers can submit materials for consideration as approved reading curricula models and/or programs. The Council also began to discuss a draft position statement regarding the Science of Reading from the Connecticut State Board of Education—a conversation that will continue at the next meeting.

New Tool Alert: Edunomics ESSER Expenditure Dashboard

Connecticut data was recently added to Edunomics’ ESSER Expenditure Dashboard. Edunomics, an education policy research center at Georgetown University, released the new tool last month to track the actual ESSER spending by districts. While some research has looked at plans for relief spending (throwback to this useful report from our national affiliate, Education Reform Now)—the new ESSER Expenditure Dashboard looks at the actual expenditures that districts have submitted for reimbursement. Until recently, however, the dashboard was only populated with data from some states, excluding Connecticut.

In a Brookings piece, the Edunomics Lab team reports that, nationally, districts had spent under 5% of ESSER III funds by the end of January. To spend down their remaining allocations by the September 2024 deadline, they argue that districts will therefore have to increase the pace of their spending—which could lead to a steeper fiscal cliff.

Here in Connecticut, the data does seem to be telling a similar story. The Franklin, RSD 06, and Sharon school districts are each identified by the Edunomics tool as having spent 90% or more of their allocations. But of all the districts studied that received some amount of ESSER III funding, over a quarter are still listed as having spent zero percent of those awards (48 out of 188 districts)—as of this week. These include Bridgeport (approx. $100M allocation), New Britain (approx. $50M), New London (approx. $16.5M), Manchester (almost $15.5M), and Windham (approx. $13.7M).

However, there could be more to this story than meets the eye. Congress delivered the stimulus bills that have provided relief to schools throughout the pandemic in three tranches, ESSER I, ESSER II, and ESSER III. While ESSER I and II, passed in March and December of 2020, largely targeted acute public health needs—ESSER III was passed in March 2021 to address longer term issues like academic learning loss. The Edunomics tool is only looking at that final bucket, and there are a plethora of reasons that the expenditures might not yet be documented. For instance, districts might still be spending down their ESSER I and ESSER II resources before they dip into ESSER III. They might have strong plans for their ESSER III funds in the future—perhaps on efforts such as summer learning or high dosage tutoring—but simply not have accumulated the expenses yet. This could also be merely a function of delayed bookkeeping. This week, the US Department of Education confirmed that districts can request an additional 14 months past the original deadline to spend some of their pandemic relief funds.

We’ll be watching as the story unfolds.

CT Businesses Invest in Employees’ College Education

According to the CT Mirror this week, several big Connecticut employers are expanding their tuition assistance programs for their hourly workers. Due to a decreasing rate of unemployment and a highly competitive labor market—companies like Amazon, Target, Walmart, and Mohegan Sun have begun to offer benefits that help to attract and retain their staff. The article outlines several partnerships between employers and institutions of higher education, highlighting coverage of college tuition costs. Tim Larson, Executive Director of the Connecticut Office of Higher Education, calls these programs a "double bonus" for companies, which will hopefully retain their staff while also helping them to expand their skillsets.

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