May 2023: Arizona children have suffered enormous learning loss because of the devastating in-person school closures during the global Covid pandemic. Students entered into the 2022-2023 with some of the largest learning deficits ever encountered. Nationally, 3rd-8th grade Math scores dropped on average 20-27%.[i] Similarly, 3rd-8th grade reading scores dropped 9-18%.[ii] Arizona's test scores followed similar trends and educators throughout the state pointed out the need for additional resources. Despite gains in 2021/2022 school year, over 18,000 children remain unenrolled in our public schools.[iii]
Unfortunately, the hardest hit communities are those comprised of minority and lower-income families which entered in this school year with an equity gap that grew nearly 20% since the Covid-19 pandemic.[iv] Despite often heroic efforts on part of public-school teachers and administrators, many children continue to fall through the gaps with increasing rates of chronic-absenteeism and attrition. New models to capture these students and provide alternatives to engage families are increasingly part of our state and national conversation.
To date, over $282 Billion has been spent on education from Federal Covid relief funds,[v] however, families are continuing to be impacted by the learning losses, and the future societal and economic consequences will be far-reaching. More recent national and international studies have been conducted to examine the far-reaching implications of learning losses and highlighted the critical need for engagement and remediation, especially for historically underserved students.[vi]
In July 2022, ESA was expanded in Arizona with the anticipation of broadening the landscape of educational opportunities in Arizona. National school choice advocates highlighted its ability to empower parents and potentially impact lower performing areas. Public School advocacy groups raised concerns about how the ESA program would impact public school funding, and benefit primarily more affluent communities. The validity of these debates often lacked hard data to determine what if any effect ESA was having on lower performing students and populations. Our findings indicate that as of January 2023, over 50% of children enrolled in Empowerment Scholarship Accounts come from zip codes at or below the Average Median Household Income (AMI) in Arizona, and that 33% come from zip codes considered Low to Moderate Income (LMI).[vii] Despite fears that ESA primarily effects the most affluent, currently 13% of ESA enrollees come from zip codes which average household income over $100,000. Currently, ESA Enrollees come from 345 of Arizona’s 405 Zip Codes,[viii] and have representation in 50 of the 59 Zip Codes that have over 50% Latino residents.[ix] While geographic representation is positive, overall volume of Latino participants can be improved through better and more inclusive marketing. Currently, 27% of ESA Enrollees come from zips codes with over 33% Latino residents, and 12% of ESA Enrollees from zip codes with over 50% Latino residents. While more research over the coming years is needed, as is deeper analysis into learning outcomes for these students, there is positive evidence to affirm ESA as part of the collaborative solution to address learning losses and advance educational growth among all Arizonans, especially those most impacted by Covid learning losses.
During the Covid era school shutdowns, San Juan Diego Institute facilitated several projects aimed at understanding learning losses and best practices for remediation, retention, and achievement.[x] As schools returned, we continued to examine enrollment trends, testing data, and, like many, were concerned about the trajectory of students, especially Latino students who were falling further behind their peers. Listening sessions with parents and community leaders, follow-up interviews with school administrators in Arizona, demonstrated the need for more urgent and creative responses to remediation, and more direct support of parents, some of whom had lost trust in public schools and had new convictions about how best to educate their children. Given the urgency and scope of the need to engage, remediate and advance the learning outcomes of all Arizona students, especially those disproportionately impacted by Covid-19 learning losses, efforts to strengthen public schools and the ESA program should not be seen in opposition, but as part of creating a rich and wide landscape of educational opportunity in Arizona.
Moving forward, San Juan Diego Institute will continue to advocate and support data-driven and targeted approaches to remediation as well as support efforts to improve ESA’s impact in the Latino community. We will continue to work with public, public charter, private and micro-schools by sharing and tracking data and evaluating and supporting impactful models of educating Arizona’s students.
[i] Test Score Patterns Across Three Covid-19 impact School Years. Annenberg Brown University, https://edworkingpapers.com/sites/default/files/ai22-521.pdf see summary at Brookings https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2022/03/03/the-pandemic-has-had-devastating-impacts-on-learning-what-will-it-take-to-help-students-catch-up/ also Learning during Covid-19:An Update on Student Achievement and Growth at the Start of 2021-2022 School Year. Center for School and Student Progress (NWEA, December 2021) [ii] Ibid [iii] Total AZ Enrollment: 1,150,987 (2019-2020) vs. 1,112,598 (2020-2021) vs. 1,132,997 (2021-2022). As reported https://www.azed.gov/accountability-research [iv] Test Score Patterns Across Three Covid-19 impact School Years. [v] $9.75B GEER, $190.5B ESSER, $5.5B EANS, $76.5B HEERF. = $382 Billion [vi]A systematic review and meta-analysis of the evidence on learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, (Nature Human Behaviour, 7, 2023). COVID-19 learning delay and recovery: Where do US states stand? (McKinsey & Company, Jan 11, 2023). [vii] Based on Total Student enrollment/zip code received under a Public Information Request, 01/23. 48,095 total enrollees from Zip Codes with 2021 Adjusted Average Median Income through Census Data. 25,252 ESA Enrollees from Zip Codes at or below 2017-2021 Adjusted AMI of $69,056. 14,741 ESA Enrollees from Zip Codes below 80% AMI. 6,021 ESA Enrollees from Zip Codes from $101,880 to $163,750 Adjusted AZ AMI Data Average Median Income $69,056 https://data.census.gov/table?q=Arizona+Income+and+Poverty&tid=ACSST1Y2021.S1901. [viii] Based on Total Student enrollment/zip code received under a Public Information Request, 01/23, from 345 Zip Codes. 405 Zip Codes included in AZ 2017-2021 Census data. [ix] Zip code demographic data compiled from 2017-2021 Census data. Data provided by ZipAtlas dataset 2021 B19013 (Demographics). [x] SJDI conducted two studies on behalf of Raza Development Fund. One in 2019-2020 at the beginning of the Covid-19 Pandemic – Impact of Coronavirus on K-12 School Attendance, Performance and Culture, and one in 2020-2021 - Raza Development Fund Covid-19 Education Research & Intervention 2020.