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Connecticut faces big test in addressing pandemic learning gap

Gov. Ned Lamont on Monday announced an unprecedented, hands-on effort to re-engage public school students who have drifted away from education during the pandemic. The announced $10.7 million investment is just a down payment on making up for the learning losses that resulted as school systems moved to remote and hybrid instruction.

The challenge is formidable. The money available has to be spent wisely and effectively. If it is not, Connecticut and states across the country are at risk of losing a significant portion of a generation of students, with those already disadvantaged — because they come from economically struggling families — especially at risk.

The plans announced by the Lamont administration and the Connecticut State Department of Education, using funds from an earlier round of federal-relief dollars, are sound and ambitious. But the key will be how effectively those plans are executed.

The effort will target 15 school districts with particularly high rates of absenteeism, including New London and Norwich. In other words, these are kids in grades kindergarten through high school who did not even bother with the pretext of signing in when classes were held remotely and often didn't show up when in-school instruction resumed.

Organized by the six state Regional Education Service Centers — in this area that is LEARN — staffing will be bolstered so that personnel can be deployed to the homes of these students to better understand the reasons for the absenteeism and provide support. The administration announced it is prepared to coordinate, as needed, mental health services, housing stability, access to childcare, transportation, and quality internet service.

A short-term goal is getting students re-engaged for the final months of this school year; providing summer camps and learning programs to help continue bridging learning gaps; and making sure the absenteeism does not carry over to the fall.

Information gathered should help guide effective use of a much larger tranche of federal aid headed to Connecticut under the American Rescue Plan — $1.1 billion to assist students in recovering from learning losses across all economic spectrums.

The states could not have dug out of this learning hole alone. The substantial federal aid provides an opportunity not only to address the academic disparity tied to the pandemic, but to attack the achievement gap that long existed before it.

The plan announced Monday appears to be a good start, but the final report card on whether the aid was effectively spent is years away.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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