Congress directed billions of dollars to the nation's public schools to address pandemic-era learning loss. So far, there's no evidence that this was a productive use of money.
Are there any lessons for Nevada, where lawmakers and the governor recently increased education funding by $1 billion a year under the premise that this would boost the state's abysmal student test scores?
Across the nation, all but a few public school districts jumped at the "free" cash that federal lawmakers allocated to reverse the vast harm done by the failure of remote instruction. Students, particularly those most in need, suffered significantly.
The massive amount of new funding was unprecedented. "This is the biggest one-time infusion of federal dollars ever to come to schools," Phyllis Jordan, the associate director of FutureEd, an education policy think tank, told The New York Times. "It's just an astounding amount of money."
Yet efforts to add more instruction time for struggling students were often met with resistance from the usual suspects. As the Times so delicately put it, "In their advocacy on behalf of exhausted, burned-out teachers, unions often protest proposals that require more work from educators, whether a shorter summer, longer school days or mandatory tutoring."
Hidebound education unions didn't protest attempts to shift the money into teacher pay or bonuses, which is how many districts spent their windfalls.
In the meantime, there has been no sudden improvement in national test scores--nor do education advocates promise any such thing in the near future. Instead, the federal "investment" will dry up next year, which will prompt many districts that used the money to pad baseline budgets to cry poverty, demanding still more.
In Nevada, the Clark County School District received nearly $800 million in pandemic aid, but has little to show for it.
In terms of average scores, Nevada lost more than a decade's worth of progress in reading. It was worse in math. In that subject, students lost almost two decades worth of gains.
In June, Nevada lawmakers, at the behest of Gov. Joe Lombardo, increased state support for public schools by more than $2 billion over the two-year budget cycle. District officials are now locked in an ugly fight with the local teachers union over how to spend a big chunk of that money. Little of that conversation concerns how to use the funds to improve student achievement.