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By New Jersey General Assembly

Seeking to help school districts address gaps in learning spurred by months of school closures and remote instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Assembly Education Committee recently approved legislation to establish a grant program to provide funds to schools to create or expand learning and support programs this summer and during the next school year.

“Many children in New Jersey have not been in a traditional classroom since last March. Without daily, in-person, hands-on instruction, countless students are falling behind by no fault of their own,” said Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden, Burlington), chair of the Education Committee and prime sponsor of the legislation. “As we look forward to a post-COVID reality, we must ensure our schools have the resources they need to implement additional support services to mitigate learning loss.”

In a study on student assessments administered in the fall of 2020, students on average had only covered 67 percent of the math curriculum and 87 percent of the reading curriculum that grade-level peers would have learned in the prior year. The report also highlighted racial disparities exacerbated by learning loss, with schools attended predominantly by students of color experiencing scores dropping to 59 percent of the average in math and 77 percent in reading.

“Remote learning looks different for every student across New Jersey. Some have access to laptops, a designated space for learning and assistance from parents or siblings, while others lack internet connection, devices or a comfortable place to do their schoolwork,” said Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex, Morris), co-prime sponsor of the legislation. “We must keep in mind the educational disparities that negatively impacted our schools and too many students before the pandemic as we plan for life after this crisis.”

“Schools have faced unprecedented challenges over the past year. The next hurdle on the horizon will be to alleviate learning loss and avoid long-lasting disparities in educational outcomes,” said Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-Union), another of the measure’s sponsors. “This grant program will go a long way to support our students, particularly those from lower-income families who may have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.”

The measure would create the Alleviating Learning Loss in New Jersey Grant Program within the New Jersey Department of Education (DOE). All school districts, charter schools and renaissance schools would be eligible to apply for the program. Schools would provide a description of initiatives to be created or expanded and how they will address learning loss, among other information.

The DOE Commissioner would be required to give priority to entities that have not established a summer learning program for this upcoming summer, and have a student population in which 20 percent or more of students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals under the National School Lunch Program or School Breakfast Program.

The grant program would be funded through federal assistance provided to New Jersey to address the impact of COVID-19 on elementary and secondary schools, with any additional needed funding being provided through the State.

The legislation now goes to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.

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