Metro school districts could face billion dollar bill to reverse learning losses, new study finds

ATLANTA — Standardized tests show that most Georgia public school students suffered learning losses during the pandemic. The same is true nationally. Now a team at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. has estimated the cost of digging students out of that academic hole before it becomes a lifelong burden for them.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher read through the findings of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown and said the amount of work to be done is astonishing.

The good news is, Georgia alone received more than $6.5 billion from Washington just to address education-related problems arising from COVID-19, and nearly $3 billion is still available for local school districts here.

Two educators who closely follow the news of such funding wonder whether there is sufficient urgency about using the money to try to reverse learning losses.

“School districts, for them, it’s showtime,” said Dr. Marguerite Roza, who runs the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown. The lab has prepared a district-by-district look at learning losses and estimated costs for correcting those losses in every school district in the country.

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In an interview with Channel 2, Roza said schools need to move quickly.

“The money is in the schools, and kids are behind from the pandemic and the clock is ticking. Not only does the money have a deadline to spend, kids are getting older. If you were in second grade during the pandemic and you didn’t really, fully learn how to read, you’ve gotten older. You might be in fifth grade now. We’ve got to get it done to get these kids back up to speed,” Roza said.

Edunomics Lab estimates just five metro Atlanta school districts will need about $895 million for tutoring or other forms of additional instruction (e.g. Saturday or summer classes) to correct pandemic learning losses in reading and math. Here are the numbers: APS — $110.9 million; Cobb County — $173.3 million; DeKalb County — $230.9 million; Fulton County — $144.5 million; and Gwinnett County — $232.4 million.

“The learning loss — how big it was — did not surprise me. What surprised me was how little districts are spending on learning loss,” said Dr. Ben Scafidi, who served as an education advisor to then-Georgia Governor. Sonny Perdue and who now runs Education Economics Center at Kennesaw State University. He’s concerned the severity of learning losses isn’t getting the public attention it deserves.

“I don’t think the public grasps it, but I do think individual families understand it because they see what’s going on with their own children,” he told Channel 2.

He questioned if there was a sufficient sense of urgency in Washington, at the state level or in local school districts.

“I would have thought districts would have spent almost all of this money on remediation, especially as the COVID health conditions improved dramatically,” Scafidi said.


“You get the sense that people have moved on from the pandemic, or the focus is really only on the mental health, social and emotional health piece. We pushed aside the academic piece for now,” said Roza, who added school districts need to tackle learning loss aggressively and ask regularly if their efforts are working.

“We cannot go a whole year, wait for the test scores and say, ‘uh, oh. It didn’t work very well.’ School districts need to be — on regular basis during the year, checking in on their investments to see if all this money is reaping a benefit for students. If not, they have to change course mid-year. We’re worried that we’re not seeing that.”

There is still nearly $3 billion available to Georgia school districts, and they have wide latitude about how to spend it. One requirement is that they spend at least 20% of the last and largest pot of money to combat learning losses.

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