Three Ways Federal Rescue Funds Can Boost Summer Learning Programs
By Sara Kerr, Sam Stockwell and Jen Tolentino
The last three years have stretched our schools to their absolute limit. Remote learning, social distancing, staffing shortages, ever-changing regulations — all of it — have left city staff, teachers, students and parents depleted. And as recovery efforts continue, it doesn’t look like a restful and relaxing summer is in the cards. Instead, many school districts and local government partners are turning to expanded summer learning programs. Fortunately, the historic federal funding from the American Rescue Plan can support this work.
The devastating learning loss across our country, particularly in communities that are historically underserved, can begin to be addressed through investments from local government officials in proven summer learning programs alongside their school district partners. A recommended use of ARP’s State and Local Fiscal Recovery (SLFRF) dollars is toward such evidence-based programs that will address longstanding and exacerbated inequities due to the Coronavirus pandemic. As a part of our EdResearch for Recovery project, we have worked closely with school districts in Tennessee and Rhode Island to develop summer programming aligned to the best research evidence available. Districts are leaning into summer programming because the payoff for students can be massive — student academic benefits can be up to 15% of typical annual gain in a school year after one summer and 20–25% of typical annual gain after two summers.
For instance, in Tuscaloosa, AL, Mayor Walt Maddox raised the profile of the summer learning programs to ensure it was a city-wide initiative. They secured key municipal investments to support the programs and coordinated with Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) across the city to expand opportunities for students. This all-in commitment led to significant gains for students: 60% of students who attended at least three quarters of summer learning days preserved their academic progress in reading, compared to 16% of those who did not. Getting these programs up and running is both vital for students and a huge lift for districts. But, city governments can help in three key ways.
- Commit Funding. While many districts are funding summer programs through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER), paying for staff, student materials, transportation and other costs can limit program scope. Cities can defray these costs by using their SLFRF allocation. This funding stream is designed to help state and local governments across the country to support their response to and recovery from COVID-19. Summer learning is a critical academic recovery strategy for districts, and cities can help their residents by financially supporting summer programming.
- Provide Staff. Staffing summer programs is a struggle. Teachers are describing the past three years as “the hardest they’ve ever faced” and there is a national shortage of education personnel. Cities can alleviate the staffing squeeze by creating enrichment opportunities that are fully staffed by city personnel so that districts only need to manage academic staffing. If a district is struggling to recruit enough personnel on their own, they can leverage city communication systems to recruit personnel from their community. Cities could also run dedicated volunteer campaigns to encourage local businesses and individuals to dedicate a portion of their summer to support students in summer programming.
- Bring the Fun! School districts are well-equipped to create and develop academic programs for students. But, summer still needs to have plenty of fun enrichment opportunities! Students are more likely to engage and participate when they have exciting enrichment activities to complement their academic work. Recreation Departments can run afternoon camps across the city for students to attend. City officials could convene and coordinate local Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) to provide programs that complement what school districts are doing. Programming needs to spark student interest and keep them coming back every day.
Everyone is exhausted. COVID-19 has devastated student learning and, two years into the pandemic, schools are struggling to keep students afloat. But the American Rescue Plan can help. School districts can team up with local governments and CBOs to deliver high-quality summer programs for students. Additionally, city leaders should discuss research-based design principles with school district administration to ensure these programs maximize student impact. To support the development of evidence-aligned summer programming, we created our Summer Learning Toolkit, which offers resources for strategy sessions and workshops, and an example of effective summer programming Rhode Island. While this might not end up being the restful summer that teachers and administrators deserve, successful collaboration between cities and schools can make this summer, and subsequent summers, exactly what students need.
Sam Stockwell is the Research Project Manager at the Annenberg Institute at Brown University
Sara Kerr is the Vice President of Education Policy Implementation at Results for America
Jen Tolentino is the Director of Local Practice at Results for America