SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Only half of New Mexico’s students were engaged in online learning after schools shut down in mid-march to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, resulting in months of lost learning, according to a report released Wednesday.
The report prepared by staff with the Legislative Finance Committee estimates that the average child has lost three months to a year of schooling. One in five children did not connect to online learning, and younger children who did connect only got around 30 minutes of instruction per day.
Just weeks before the pandemic began having effects in the state, state lawmakers had approved a 6% increase in education spending. That included money for extended learning meant to close the learning gap, but the coronavirus has prevented most schools from extending the year.
The report states that the learning loss was exacerbated by guidance from the state Public Education Department that teachers focus on reviewing previously learned material. Other states had promoted the teaching of new material.
“We disagree that enough data currently exists to lay blame on PED for compounding learning loss,” Education Secretary Ryan Stewart wrote in a letter responding to the findings.
Citing the “summer slide” when students forget what they’ve studied during the year, the analysts said the learning loss is expected to widen the achievement gap between at-risk students and their more affluent peers.
According to the research, at-risk students finish sixth grade with 6,000 fewer hours of learning time because of a lack of access to enrichment, summer and other educational opportunities outside of school.
The report concludes that the state must prioritize safely reopening schools in the fall in order to stem continued learning losses.
As for spending on education, the pandemic also tanked global oil demand, depriving the state of royalties and contributed to an expected $2 billion budget shortfall.
Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham vetoed around $110 million in building projects for a modest reduction in spending following the regular legislative session that ended in February, but she was later forced to call for a special session. Next week, lawmakers will convene in Santa Fe to consider plans for addressing the immediate shortfall. More difficult conversations are expected in January when they have to craft the budget for the following fiscal year.
Lujan Grisham on Wednesday outlined her budget priorities for the upcoming session, proposing to scale back a raise for teachers to 2%, down from 4%, and fund five extra school days.
Assoiciated Press: By CEDAR ATTANASIO
Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.