State grant funds helping to accelerate student learning after losing ground to COVID-19

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INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Department of Education is inviting organizations to apply for the second round of grant funds intended to help accelerate student learning.

The Student Learning Recovery Grant Program and Fund was created by House Bill 1008, signed into law on April 2021.

The program was created to help combat the pandemic’s impact on academics. The Indiana Department of Education says Indiana students experienced “significant, widespread impacts to academic performance and learning outcomes.”

Holly Lawson, deputy communications director for the Indiana Department of Education, said student learning continues to be disrupted.

“Most schools in Indiana have returned to full-time, in-person instruction,” Holly said. “But we still have to keep in mind that over the last three school years, student learning has been impacted by COVID-19 disruptions.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 93% of households with school-age children participated in some degree of virtual learning in spring 2020.

Indiana Education Secretary Katie Jenner said it’s going to require a multi-faceted approach to get students caught up, involving families, governments and community groups, in addition to teachers.

The grant funding is helping by providing financial resources to schools and community partners to provide extra instructional time before and after school and during breaks.

“They’re making up for any learning that they might not have had a chance to gain during school closures during the early parts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lawson said.

Of the $150 million set aside for the grant program, the department has awarded more than $122 million to 110 partnerships in 83 of Indiana’s 92 counties.

“It really is a statewide impact that we’re seeing as part of the first round, and these programs are ongoing right now across the state,” Lawson said.

The United Way of Central Indiana is one of the programs that received funding through the first round of grants. Using the money, they partnered with the Mind Trust for a five-week summer program.

The program improved student performance by an average of 12% in English and 17% in math, according to Brandon Brown, CEO of The Mind Trust.

The pandemic has exacerbated already large academic disparities, particularly for students of color and children from low-income households. In response, organizations across Indianapolis joined together to launch Indy Summer Learning Labs, a community-wide effort to accelerate learning for 3,000 of our city’s most marginalized students. We are proud of the significant learning gains achieved this summer and look forward to serving even more students next year. None of this would have been possible without the foresight of our state leaders to create the Student Learning Recovery Grant Program.

Brandon Brown, CEO at The Mind Trust, and Ann Murtlow, CEO at United Way of Central Indiana

Ann Murtlow, president and CEO of United Way of Central Indiana, said a lot of work went into making sure the program was a success.

“We knew that was going to be an incredible effort, because getting something stood up in about five months is always a big effort, but we were really pleased that we were able to serve about 3,000 kids in over 30 sites and a combination of school sites and community-based organizations that all partnered together to make this happen,” Murtlow said.

Murtlow added that children from low-income families, particularly black and brown children in our communities, have been particularly vulnerable. She said during the pandemic, they were less likely to have great connectivity and affordable internet.

“If you were going to a complete e-learning environment, you were really at a disadvantage, so we wanted to really work with kids across that entire grade span to make it fun for them, but also to give them a high-quality curriculum really designed to prepare them for the grade they were going into,” Murtlow explained.

State lawmakers said learning loss will require several years of discussion in the legislature.

“I don’t think just throwing the money at this issue is going to be effective,” said State Sen. J.D. Ford (D-Indianapolis), who serves on the interim study committee on education. “I also don’t think that testing our way out of this issue is going to be effective. So I really do think that we need take a step back, look at the holistic way of doing this.”

“We heard some testimony on accountability and transparency,” said State Sen. Jeff Raatz (R-Richmond), who serves as chair of the interim study committee on education. “While that’s part of the answer, it won’t be the answer. As we look off into the future, it may require additional funding.”

The second round of grant funding is now open for applications. $27.5 million is available for the second round. It is available for several organizations including:

  • Community-based organizations
  • Education service centers
  • Institutions of higher education
  • Private, not-for-profit or for-profit organizations
  • School corporations, charter schools and nonpublic schools

To qualify, the lead organizations need to show that they have exhausted all federal funds awarded for a similar purpose.

“We want to make sure that the lead organization is expending those federal funds first, so operationally, we’re seeing that the lead applicant needs to be a community organization,” Lawson said.

The organization also has to agree to partner with the school or corporation so they can use the data the school has to identify the students who are most in need of help.

The United Way of Central Indiana is planning to apply for the second round of funding. Murtlow said they plan on taking what they learned during the summer program to make sure they can provide the best service possible.

“Education is hugely important, and I think all kids have suffered some learning loss, but particularly as we look to create a society that is inclusive and really leads to inclusive economic opportunity,” Murtlow said, “education is a huge part of that, and so it is important for our children. It’s important for our next generation. It’s important for our community, and it’s important for our state.”

Applications for the second round of grants are due by November 28. Interested applicants should first review all grant requirements by vising the Indiana Department of Education website before submitting their online application, along with an application narrative, budget summary and budget narrative.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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