Educating Through COVID: From Utah’s Substitute Teacher Crisis to a Driver Shortage in Chicago Leading District to Look Beyond Yellow Buses, 9 Ways States Are Confronting the Crisis

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Marguerite Roza, the director of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University, engages in a discussion in Education Next about how school leaders can effectively utilize COVID-19 relief funds to accelerate learning, provide necessary support to students, and position schools for success as the pandemic subsides.

Roza highlights some promising ways in which she sees the money being utilized, such as districts adapting to ensure students’ return by addressing issues like transportation shortages, improving ventilation, and offering virtual options where necessary. She also emphasizes the requirement for districts to engage with their communities when making spending decisions, as this is a significant condition attached to the federal relief funds.

Moving beyond the topics of relief funds and federal oversight, here are eight other updates from around the country regarding how states and school systems are addressing the challenges posed by COVID-19 and its variants. They are working to preserve student learning during the ongoing pandemic:

UTAH – School Districts Offer Additional Compensation to Attract Substitute Teachers and Prevent a Crisis

In recent weeks, an increasing number of Utah school districts are resorting to pay increases and bonuses in the hope of attracting more substitute teachers, as shortages reach a critical level. Ben Horsley, the spokesperson for the Granite School District, attributes the shortages to funding issues, as school districts compete with each other and outside companies that may offer higher pay. School officials are willing to try various approaches, including bonuses, to stabilize the number of available substitute teachers. Throughout the pandemic, widespread staffing shortages have notably impacted low-income communities.

FLORIDA – Proposal to Eliminate Standardized Testing in High Schools Receives Mixed Reactions

In September, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis proposed the elimination of the Florida Standards Assessment and suggested the implementation of "progress monitoring" throughout the year. However, some parents and educators have expressed concerns and skepticism about the plan. One parent worries about schools’ ability to gauge students’ progress without standardized testing. She believes that removing standardized testing altogether may send a message of lack of confidence in students’ abilities to meet academic expectations, especially after a challenging year.

DELAWARE – Grants Fuel Efforts to Develop Innovative Career Training Programs and Re-engage Disengaged Youth

Beth Hawkins from showcases a robust effort by private and civic leaders to support the development of promising career pathway programs in schools across the country. These initiatives receive grants as large as $25 million, encouraging innovation. The Walton Family Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies, among other philanthropic organizations, advocate for providing students with access to career opportunities and hands-on experiences at a younger age and across various communities. States like Delaware, Texas, and Tennessee have embraced this strategy and have strengthened career programs as part of their K-12 recovery plans, aiming to offer students the chance to earn job credentials or secure employment after graduation.

PENNSYLVANIA – Trial Commences for Fair School Funding

A trial has begun in Pennsylvania regarding the issue of fair school funding. The trial aims to address the disparities in funding between school districts and ensure equal opportunities for all students. This case highlights the importance of equitable allocation of resources in education to provide every student with a fair chance to succeed.

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Pennsylvania is witnessing a significant deprivation of students’ fundamental right to receive a high-quality education due to inadequate and unfairly distributed state funding. One organization, TeachPlusPA, is actively engaged in advocacy to address this issue.

During the pandemic, there was a notable decline in the number of students entering kindergarten. However, there is now a resurgence in enrollment as students and families re-engage with schools. Many suburban and rural schools are observing a rebound in early grade enrollment, surpassing pre-pandemic numbers. On the other hand, big-city districts that were already experiencing a decline in enrollment before the pandemic continue to face overall drops in enrollment. Districts attribute shrinking enrollment to larger population declines and decreasing birth rates, considering them additional factors beyond the pandemic, although the long-term trends are uncertain.

Chicago Public Schools, grappling with challenges in attracting and retaining bus drivers, are considering a strategy to reduce their heavy reliance on yellow buses for student transportation. The district is exploring alternatives such as financial incentives for families to coordinate transportation or partnering with ride-share services like RideAlong. The district CEO, Pedro Martinez, questions whether exclusive reliance on yellow buses should continue, suggesting that their traditional approach may be too limited.

In Michigan, there is ongoing debate surrounding a package of bills aimed at supporting struggling young readers, particularly those with dyslexia. The proposed laws would mandate dyslexia screenings for students and enhance teacher training to better identify and address reading difficulties. Lawmakers and experts from across Michigan’s political spectrum and various regions generally support these bills, emphasizing the state’s need to do more for struggling readers. However, some literacy experts and school officials advise caution, expressing concerns about the bills being overly prescriptive and resembling ineffective policies implemented in other states.

In an effort to bridge gaps in reading education throughout California, state leaders have taken measures to improve literacy instruction. Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed legislation requiring prospective teachers to learn evidence-based reading instruction practices. Additionally, a proposed bill seeks to implement universal screening for dyslexia. State Superintendent Tony Thurmond has also launched his own literacy agenda, establishing a task force to ensure that all third graders can read by 2026 and pledging to distribute one million books to students.

This update on the recovery of education during the pandemic collects and shares the latest news updates from the district, state, and national levels. Various stakeholders continue to work on developing safe and innovative plans to resume schooling and address learning loss. This initiative stems from the Collaborative for Student Success’ QuickSheet newsletter, which you can subscribe to here.


  • rhysgraham

    Rhys Graham is an educational blogger and professor who writes about topics such as literacy, mathematics, and science. He has written several books, including one on the history of science. He is also the co-founder of the website Learn Out Loud, which helps educators create and share classroom activities.