Navigating response to learning loss with little information

By Nancy Richardson

A meeting of the Finance Committee of the Champlain Valley School District (CVSD) Board met on June 3 to discuss the current and future financial picture of the CVSD. Jeanne Jensen reviewed the FY 20 financials. The added expenditure of providing food service was balanced by the fact that special education tuition services and professional development were reduced. The FY 20 budget appears to have a positive fund balance. However, the real financial impact of the COVID 19 pandemic will be felt in the FY 21, 22 and 23 budgets. And the main challenges will be the costs of the interruption of learning for students and the development of compensatory programs that seek to mitigate this learning loss.

Meghan Roy, CVSD Special Education Director, testified to the House Education Committee on June 2 and summarized the many educational challenges ahead of local education agencies. First among them will be addressing the learning loss that has occurred for all students. This will mean adjustments in the curriculum, professional development in remote learning for teachers, compensatory support and time for students in need, and the legally required special education services for students with disabilities. In addition, there will be the need for the purchase of technical and instructional resources and increased bandwidth for student access.

The cost of moving from building-based educational programs to, at least, partial remote learning will continue as long as the pandemic lasts. Preparing schools for safety and purchasing personal protective equipment will also increase education costs. Physical plant modifications to implement social distancing and facilities staff time to engineer and maintain these safety alterations will increase costs.

This expected increase in necessary costs comes at a time when state and local education funding are under extreme pressure. It is expected that the March 2020 federal CARES Act will provide some funding for compensatory programs and technical costs. But in the background are the losses in tax revenue at the state level with severe losses in the Education Fund. The administration has asked principals to review their personnel needs and to identify any areas where savings might be made, an exercise that was conducted in the preparation of the FY 21 budget. But this financial and educational planning is being conducted in an atmosphere of great uncertainty. How education will be designed, funded and delivered is an open question.