Indiana lawmakers say addressing learning loss will remain a priority at the Statehouse

IN Focus: Indiana Politics

INDIANAPOLIS – With many Hoosier kids in the early stages of getting caught up on learning lost during the pandemic, Indiana officials say learning loss remains a priority at the Statehouse.

The data tells a troubling story, revealing the struggles students have faced through the pandemic. According to the Indiana Department of Education, it could take some students three to five years to catch up.

Now state officials are trying to find out if learning is still being lost, according to Charity Flores, chief academic officer for the Indiana Department of Education.

“This is a very new undertaking in terms of trying to manage the academic impact,” Flores said.

State education officials are focusing on initiatives involving STEM since math skills were found to be significantly impacted by the pandemic.​

Flores said she’s also concerned about literacy skills of early learners.

“Especially for students that hadn’t completed kindergarten or maybe had some exceptions to their first grade over the last couple of years, those foundational skills may be lacking,” she explained.

The Indiana Department of Education continues to give guidance to school districts, recently expanding online tutoring and teaching resources for students and instructors, Flores said. But the state is also providing flexibility for schools to make their own decisions on how to catch-up, she added.

“Knowing that every student came out of the pandemic with different needs is going to be most critically addressed locally,” she said.

Getting students caught up in the classroom is also an area of focus for state lawmakers, who passed additional funding last session to help with those efforts.

“It will be priority in the 2022 and 2023 session is what I expect,” said State Sen. Jeff Raatz (R-Richmond), who chairs the Senate Education and Career Development Committee.

Lawmakers will continue to monitor the state funding that was approved for schools last session, which included $150 million dollars in grants to fund new local programs focused on the effort, State Sen. Raatz said.

“Some innovative ways that maybe we don’t necessarily operate under today that were implemented that seemed to turn out very well,” Raatz said.

Raatz and other lawmakers say those innovations may be here to stay.

“Where we were before COVID wasn’t where we needed to be,” said State Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis), who chairs the House Education Committee.

State Rep. Behning said he’s working with business and education leaders to find ways to improve classes and curriculum that don’t require legislation.

“It wouldn’t be the state mandating, but it may be the state providing some financial incentive to use this high-quality curriculum,” Behning said. “How can we maybe move to create more of a culture of innovation?”

Both Behning and Raatz said it’s too early to tell whether any additional state funding will be sent to schools when a new budget is approved in 2023.

Raatz points out Indiana schools received nearly $2 billion from the state legislature last session and about $3 billion from the federal government’s COVID relief packages.

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