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The COVID-19 crisis led to a near-nationwide closure of K-12 public schools. Many states are not planning to re-open schools for face-to-face instruction for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year. Governor Gretchen Whitmer has announced that Michigan will end face-to-face instruction, require schools to submit plans for distance learning, and suspend many requirements for assessment and instruction. The truncated school year is likely to reduce student learning, leaving students less prepared to advance grades, and severely strain school planning, financing, and assessment capabilities. Michigan State University’s Education Policy Innovation Collaborative (EPIC)and Institute for Public Policy and Social Research (IPPSR) have jointly tracked crisis responses across all 50 states, which are summarized here. Details on each state are compiled in the documents below. These fast-moving changes are subject to revision; we plan to continue tracking.

These documents were last updated on 4/23/2020.

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Documents

Research Relevant for State School Shutdowns and Moves to Distance Education (.pdf)
State by State Information (.xlsx)
Proposals and Conflicts (.xlsx)
Related State Legislation (.xlsx)

Report

Since our last update, many states have added new guidance. There is still significant variation across states. For example, North Dakota is prohibiting schools from offering online learning, only allowing distance learning via paper packets. New Hampshire has classified special education teachers as essential and is still permitting them to meet with their students one-on-one. Indiana decreased their required instructional hours to 160, whereas all other states have either waived the requirement, not given a specific number, or are counting distance learning as instructional hours. Implementation challenges are also widespread, with districts being asked to meet many objectives with limited state assistance.

Truncated School Years and Instruction

Twenty-nine states have suspended in-person schooling through the end of the school year, 18 remain temporarily closed, and four are leaving it up to individual districts or localities. Ten states have officially changed required instructional hours for the school year, though most others are enabling waivers or revisions. In states that have closed school until the end of the year, some explicitly are not requiring districts to make up all lost instructional hours and others are allowing replacements. On the other hand, both New Jersey and New Hampshire are counting any day where distance learning is available as an instructional day.

Distance Learning

Twenty-nine states, including Michigan, are requiring districts to plan distance learning options for students and an additional 16 states are encouraging the adoption of distance learning plans (though many have yet to begin). Thirty-nine states are providing some resources to districts to enable distance learning, though these vary in quality dramatically, with only 30 offering resources by grade or subject. Importantly, there is wide acknowledgement that distance or remote learning does not need to be and likely cannot solely be offered online. No state was prepared to immediately shift to an online learning platform or distribute computer and Internet resources to students statewide, but several districts are developing plans to do so. District efforts range from distributing print packets of homework to standardizing laptops and video instruction. State efforts range from parent resource links to video webinars. Some states are capitalizing on existing virtual schools to help ramp up online instruction. For instance, Florida is using its virtual school to provide guidance and instruction to districts and teachers and Alaska, which also has a statewide virtual school, is offering distance learning resources for free to Alaska students. Other states, like Illinois, are providing free access to online resources directly to parents. At the other end of the spectrum, Iowa has restricted districts from requiring student participation in distance learning. West Virginia is encouraging phone contact.

Special Education and Equity

The shift has raised legal and operational issues regarding special education and students with disabilities along with wider concerns about equity across districts and students. Twenty-three states have provided some recommendations for access to instruction by special education students, though many are vague guidelines to local districts. Special education advocates have raised concerns that high-bandwidth online educational services are not universally appropriate and asked districts to prepare alternative forms of distance education. Connecticut provides a relatively expansive toolkit for special education distance learning and Georgia has created a webinar for special education teachers to help them support their students. Most states are requiring district plans to be submitted to the state that incorporate their methods of addressing special education. Many states refer to continuing federal legal requirements but do not say how to meet them.

Assessment

All states have sought waivers of federal standardized testing requirements; most have already been granted. Twenty-six states have provided some guidance to districts for how grading should take place this school year. Some districts are changing grading requirements to pass/fail or certification of content mastery. Most states are planning to graduate and advance students to the next school year, though most have not developed an alternative plan for assessment. States with third grade reading requirements expect to modify or suspend them. Georgia has waived the requirement to base grades on end-of-course assessments. Oklahoma has declared that grades cannot be negatively impacted by the suspension. Idaho’s guidance says that “school districts and charter schools are asked to take into consideration the students’ future plans for going on to some form of postsecondary education or other scholarship considerations when evaluating grading policies.”

Finance

Twelve states have advised districts on using funds to support instruction and district operations and 30 states have documented compensation guidelines for teachers and staff, but only five have provided extra funding for instruction or operations. Like Michigan, Mississippi is authorizing payment of educators during school closures due to COVID-19. Although no states have rescinded or substantially cut school financing, many district leaders have raised concerns regarding increased expenses and continuing obligations. Several states are requiring continued employment of teachers or other education staff. Vermont is requiring states to track all additional expenses related to the health crisis.

State Legislation

Most states have left emergency decisions to governors and state education departments, without passing enabling legislation. Arizona passed legislation to compensate employees, revise instructional hours requirements, and enable summer instruction. Pennsylvania passed similar legislation empowering agency discretion and requiring districts to create learning plans. Ohio has canceled testing and report cards for the school year and advanced or graduated students who were on track prior to closures, but also enabled districts to extend school years. Washington passed legislation enabling school employee compensation and benefits, with Mississippi, Minnesota, Missouri, and Maine considering finance legislation. Louisiana and Tennessee are considering legislation suspending testing requirements.

Federal Resources

The new federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act includes a $13.5 billion stabilization fund for school districts and a $3 billion fund for governors (subject to waivable maintenance-of-effort requirements), with an additional $8.8 billion for child nutrition. U.S. House leadership is requesting additional state and local government funding in new legislation. Although the federal funding is mostly unrestricted and could potentially be used to ramp up summer instruction or distance learning or to enhance the 2020-21 school year, it totals approximately one-third of the funding made available in the 2009 recession and is unlikely to fully offset declining state revenues. Illinois has directed that increased federal resources be used for addressing high-need and special-education students.

Potential Legislation

Legislative Considerations for Enabling Instruction

Most districts are unprepared to immediately begin equitable and high-quality distance learning programs and provide individualized instruction for special needs children. Even in the best-case scenario, evidence from summer learning loss and past school closures suggests that students are unlikely to learn as much this school year. Most research on the general effectiveness of online learning does not apply to the present crisis, since these studies are typically conducted in more ideal circumstances. Even in the best of circumstances, distance learning over the next couple of months will involve hastily planned instruction in unprepared districts from teachers who were expecting to use face-to-face instruction.

States should consider legislation to provide statewide resources for remote learning, computer and Internet resources for students in need, high quality summer learning programs, tutoring opportunities for students, and/or professional development programs for teachers and districts shifting to distance learning. No state has fully prepared its districts and teachers for the transition to distance learning, with most states shifting the burden to localities. We expect increasing demands for additional resources from districts, teachers, and parents. Indiana legislators have discussed extending summer instruction with the governor. Virginia is asking districts to make up for lost time, wherever possible, using scheduled vacation days or extended days or school years.

States should also expect operational difficulties in providing equitable learning opportunities, including litigation risk regarding special education. Concerns about the equity or quality of alternative education provided during the crisis should be weighed against the negative and inequitable consequences of a prolonged and unplanned absence of instruction. But legislators may need to consider state-provided options or enhancements for special needs students to prevent districts from having to suspend distance learning opportunities due to inequitable administration (for example, due to students without computer and broadband access). Oregon has recommended against districts implementing online learning, expecting them to be unable to meet equity and special education requirements. Connecticut also raised these concerns, discouraging districts from online distance learning. States can also emphasize other distance learning strategies such as mailing instructional materials to students and encouraging teachers to use phone calls or texts, which do not require high-bandwidth internet connections.

Legislative Considerations for the 2020-21 School Year

State and local leaders should expect students to return to school in Fall 2020 behind where they would have been in a normal school year, even without considering the trauma and dislocation associated with the pandemic. Research suggests that the truncated school year will also increase inequalities across districts and students, with learning loss concentrated in disadvantaged students and areas. Areas hit hard by the public health crisis are likely to have even more difficulty restarting operations and reintegrating students. States should expect fewer returning students overall as well as much greater need for remedial education.

Legislators should consider options for extending instructional time during the 2020-21 school year, including early school year start times (or extending the school year) or lengthened school days. Students are unlikely to catch up on lost learning time and succeed in meeting standards for the next academic year without expanded instructional time. Michigan's Public Act 101 of 2007 requires Intermediate School Districts (ISDs) to establish a common calendar with their constituent districts. Governor Whitmer’s Executive Order will allow districts to adopt balanced calendars next school year. ISDs and districts could be further incentivized to extend the 2020-21 school year to provide increased instructional time, ideally with additional funding. Montana is considering supplemental funding for next year. South Dakota is suggesting extending the school year, lengthening the school day, or including Saturday instruction.

States should also consider strengthening diagnostic testing in the 2020-21 school year, while making clear that it will not constitute punitive district or school assessment. Students will enter the 2020-21 school year at different levels and educators will need to use early and ongoing assessments to inform their instruction and differentiate their practice to help improve student learning. Enhanced assessment will be beneficial and cannot be perceived as risky.

States could also consider teacher and staff professional development programs to help differentiate instruction for returning students at different learning levels. Given the possibility for (at least localized) school closures next school year due to the return of COVID-19, states should also consider resources for districts to improve distance learning instruction during the next school year.

Michigan State University’s Education Policy Innovation Collaborative and Institute for Public Policy and Social Research will continue to track state administrative and legislative action related to school closures. We welcome requests for additional information on other states’ policies or for research-based policy recommendations or considerations.