Horne on the right track with Covid ed funds

All Arizona students should have already had the opportunity for the individualized tutoring  Superintendent Tom Horne is making available to some.

ROBERT ROBB

Substack

The federal government gave Arizona a cornucopia of money to cope with and ameliorate the effects of Covid on public education, a total in excess of $5 billion. Most of this money, $4.6 billion, went directly to school districts and charters. Roughly $400 million went to the state superintendent’s office for discretionary disbursements. 

Recently, current Superintendent Tom Horne announced that he was clawing back some $70 million in discretionary grants made by his predecessor, Kathy Hoffman. $40 million would be plowed into a structured tutoring program to help remedy specific learning losses suffered by specific students. There will be an entry and exit assessment for the six-week program. A bonus will be offered to participating teachers/tutors for students showing a half-year gain in academic achievement. 

There’s a tendency to want to peek around the corners about anything Horne is involved with. He’s earned a great deal of that, but some of it can be excessive. In this case, Horne’s proposed use of federal Covid funds is sound and on the mark. In fact, it exposes the greatest act of misgovernance I’ve ever seen in the state. From the get-go, the first claim on federal Covid funds should have been exactly the sort of targeted tutoring programs to remedy specific learning losses by specific students that Horne is now initiating.

One of the complaints about the Horne program is that it will reach only about 10% of students showing deficiencies on state tests. Helping 10% of students with intense, personalized tutoring is better than helping none. But the monumental misgovernance, and the tragedy, is this: The state received ample federal Covid funds to have implemented a universal program of identifying and remedying specific learning losses for every student in the state. The state received nearly $4,500 per student in federal Covid funds earmarked for K-12 education.

Far from just beginning, this intensive remediation effort could have been long completed. I called for such a program two years ago, when the Covid-related learning losses in the state were first being documented. By now, every student in the state should have received a chance to be caught up for what was lost while schools were shut down. The failure to have done so is a serious disservice to the students in the state.

A lot of money has been spent, and a lot remains to be spent. Schools are supposed to report their spending of federal Covid funds to the state Auditor General, who produces reports about it. Most of the money appears to have been spent on just maintaining operations. This is a bit perplexing. While there were enrollment declines during Covid, schools didn’t suffer significant revenue losses. Certainly nothing close to requiring $4.6 billion in federal funds to backfill.

The schools report spending only 8% of their federal Covid funds on the category labeled by the AG as: “New programs/curriculum to address learning loss and unique student needs.” These broad categories may underestimate the amount of federal Covid funds that are being used to assess and remedy specific learning losses by specific students. But there was never a coordinated, statewide effort to ensure that every student got the chance to get individualized remediation of the sort that Horne is now making available to a fraction of them. There could have been. There should have been.

The failure of leadership was comprehensive: the governor, the superintendent, state legislators, school boards and administrators, charter-school operators. Everyone gave lip service to the need to remedy Covid-related learning losses. But everyone was playing small-ball Covid politics. Despite the cornucopia of federal funds, actually assessing and remedying specific learning losses for specific students hasn’t been prioritized.

Our students deserved better. They still do. Two years later, Horne is finally giving some fraction of students the opportunity all of them should have already received.  

Reach Robb at robtrobb@gmail.com.

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