80% of large public school districts receiving federal relief funds have declining enrollment

A new analysis finds that 80% of urban public school districts receiving the largest share of federal pandemic relief money saw declining enrollment last year.

School-tracking website Burbio reported this week that 5,500 public school districts are preparing to spend $91 billion from the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund. This third round of pandemic relief funding, also known as ESSER III, became available when President Biden signed the US bailout package in March 2021.

According to Burbio’s analysis, 40 of the 50 districts with more than 10,000 students that received the most money per student saw declining enrollment last year. They also had more Title 1 students qualifying for special needs help with math and reading.

“Almost every school district has received money,” said Dennis Roche, president of Burbio. “Districts received a higher amount per student if they had a high percentage of Title 1 students.”

School districts must spend the money within three years.

Topping the list, Detroit Public Schools will spend $16,585 per student in funding. From the 2019-20 to 2020-21 school year, their enrollment fell 3.7% and was down another half a percentage point last year.

After Detroit, the Philadelphia City School District received the second-highest allocation, $8,985 per student. Enrollment in the Pennsylvania district fell 5% two years ago and 4.8% last year.

The third biggest spender will be the Cleveland Municipal School District at $8,448 per student. Enrollment in the Ohio district fell 5.9% two years ago and 1.9% last year.

Ray Guarendi, a Canton, Ohio-based clinical psychologist who counsels families, said the data shows “absolutely clear” that government funding is not the main thing helping children recover from the pandemic.

“The main success factor for students is parental involvement and family stability. This factor overshadows all other factors,” Guarendi said in an email.

Districts plan to spend ESSER-III money on technology upgrades, teacher recruitment, mental health resources, and increased security to prevent mass shootings like the one in Uvalde, Texas, on 24 may.

The money will help address issues that arose or escalated while public schools enforced virtual learning and masking policies for two years.

Large urban districts have suffered declining enrollment, falling test scores, teacher shortages and rising student depression and anxiety as they extended home-based learning longer than many rural and private schools.

In December, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued an advisory on the “urgent need to address the nation’s youth mental health crisis” that erupted during the shutdowns.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 300,000 teachers and staff left their jobs between February 2020 and May 2022. In surveys, most retiring and departing teachers cited job-related burnout. COVID-19 as the reason for their departure.

On September 1, the National Education Progress Assessment reported that long-term average math scores fell among 9-year-olds for the first time as schools closed between the start of 2020 and the end of 2020. winter 2022. Reading scores in the same age group had the worst drop since 1990.

According to teachers’ unions, test scores have plummeted because some students lacked the resources to learn at home, and enrollment has plummeted largely because of falling birth rates.

“Our black and brown students, as well as economically disadvantaged students, have faced the brunt of an ever-widening resource and opportunity gap,” National Education Association President Becky Pringle said in a recent communicated.

“This is a year to accelerate learning by rebuilding relationships, focusing on the basics, and investing in our public schools,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Earlier this year, a Harvard University report on test data from 2.1 million students in 10,000 schools found that multicultural, high-poverty public schools spent more weeks in distance learning in 2020-2021. As a result, they saw the steepest declines in math and reading.

Alex Nester, a researcher at Parents Defending Education, says teachers’ unions have yet to take responsibility for keeping schools closed for longer than health experts demand.

“Teachers’ unions have seen the pandemic as a financial drain. They claimed, wrongly, that it would be unsafe to send children back to class during the pandemic without ESSER funding,” Nester said in an email.

While public schools have remained closed during the pandemic, many parents have switched to homeschooling and private schools that reopened earlier.

The National Catholic Educational Association says enrollment in U.S. Catholic schools grew by 62,000 in 2020-21 to about 1.68 million students last year. It was their first annual increase in two decades and the largest in 50 years of recorded data.

Home-schooling groups across the country have also reported continued increases in enrollment.

North Carolina mother Dalaine Bradley has been homeschooling her four oldest children since removing them from the Johnston County School District in 2020.

She says the family has no plans to go back to public schools no matter how much money they spend.

“We no longer wanted our children to have to sit in a classroom with books and papers all day for six to seven hours,” said Ms Bradley, who started the Instagram channel @BlackMomsDoHomeschool.

Shelby Doyle, vice president of public outreach at the National School Choice Awareness Foundation, said pandemic relief funding may not reverse declining enrollment.

“The types of schools parents choose for their children have fundamentally changed and will continue to change,” Ms Doyle said.

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