Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday announced an influx of $7 billion in federal funds over three years for kindergarten through secondary education, as well as four initiatives focused on supporting students, as the state works to “overcome the pandemic’s effects on our students, on our parents and on our educators.”
“This is to make sure that we’re bringing kids back to the kind of level of learning that they had before the pandemic, and to try to focus on those kids getting on the same path that they had been on prior to COVID-19,” Pritzker said at a news conference at South Elgin High School.
The federal funds, which will be sent directly to school districts around the state, come from the American Rescue Plan Act, which Congress passed earlier this month. Those dollars are in addition to the funds the state already provides to schools and local school districts provide, Pritzker said.
The governor also announced four new initiatives at the state level to “provide guidance and support in some of the most critically important aspects” of supporting students as they begin to transition back to the classroom.
That list of initiatives includes high-impact tutoring — with a focus on aligning it with classroom instruction through the remainder of the school year and during the summer. The state has partnered with the Center for Childhood Resilience at Lurie Children’s Hospital and Rush University for another initiative on social and emotional learning.
There will also be a focus on interim assessment guidance — to help educators “target students’ needs without holding the assessment results over anyone’s head” — and bridge transition support, in an effort to “encourage enrollment in both early childhood programs, and in higher education,” Pritzker said.
Melissa Figueira, a senior policy associate at the education-focused Advance Illinois, said the recovery of the state’s education system — and students — could take years.
Though the state doesn’t yet have concrete data on the pandemic’s effects on academics, Figueira said Illinois has seen a roughly 1.9% drop in enrollment from the previous year, or 35,822 students — double what the decline was expected to be.
Kindergarten saw the steepest declines, as much as 20% to 50% in some areas, Figueira said. Post-secondary enrollment declined by about 5% this year, a larger drop than the national average.
Pritzker acknowledged the difficulties of the past year “for everyone,” from “teachers working tirelessly to adapt to remote learning” to parents who “gave their all to guiding their children through challenges that no one ever saw coming” to the students who “watched their day-to-day be usurped by a pandemic, a traumatic experience for any adult to have to navigate, let alone a child.”
“As we recover from this pandemic, I’m committed to making sure that we continue to lead the nation,” Pritzker said. “This time in assisting our schools to make this new $7 billion count over the next several years to overcome the pandemic’s effects on our students on our parents, and on our educators.”
Along with the funding, Pritzker announced the release of the P-20 Council’s Learning Renewal Resource Guide, a “starting point” for the state as it considers how to “best meet students and educators where they are.”
The P-20 Council is a state entity intended to foster collaboration among state entities, educators and others to improve education from preschool through college.
Some of the facets of the guide come from the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus’ Education and Workforce Equity Act, which tasked the council with developing recommendations for short and long-term learning recovery in the wake of the pandemic.
That report, called a “toolbox” by Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton, was released to all school districts in Illinois Wednesday and includes ideas such as elongating the school day or academic year, targeted engagement and communication programs to boost pre-K and kindergarten enrollment and hiring additional academic advisors and expanding year-round staffing and access to resources.