The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted all sectors of American life, but it has had an especially profound impact on education. In the spring, school closures thrust students into the world of virtual education. While some thrived in this setting, many students fell further behind.
As fall approaches, there is still much uncertainty surrounding K-12 school reopening plans. While some schools are implementing a mix of virtual and in-person learning, other districts are leaving their doors closed altogether. In the wake of uncertainty and limited choices, many parents are struggling to find adequate education options for their children.
To encourage state think tanks to advance innovative education policies that will support students and families, SPN partnered with the generous Arthur N Rupe Foundation in California to launch the inaugural Ed-Prize. Open to state think tank affiliate members of SPN, Ed-Prize is designed to incentivize ambitious, innovative solutions that implement flexible learning models, drive accountability through transparency, and improve student performance in K-12 education.
More than 30 state think tanks submitted proposals, which were evaluated by an expert committee with representatives in philanthropy, education policy, and teaching. SPN is pleased to announce the 2020 Ed-Prize winners:
Alaska’s children consistently rank in the bottom five nationwide on standardized test results. However, the state ranks in the top five in per-student K–12 spending. The system is failing Alaska’s children. This failure is inexcusable and condemns students to a lifetime of struggle.
Alaska Policy Forum (APF) Executive Director Bethany Marcum noted: “There is a sacred assumption among most Alaskans that more money means a better education for students. Year after year, lawmakers push for more education funding. However, rarely does anyone stop to ask—where is that money going, and if we are increasing funding every year, why are our educational outcomes still so poor? There is a woeful lack of transparency.”
APF will launch an Education Funding Reform Initiative to revolutionize how Alaska funds K–12 education by connecting funding directly to outcomes. Instead of the state giving districts a “blank check,” this reform will require outcomes-based funding. This project is strongly supported by the governor’s administration and the Alaska education commissioner. Success with this initiative will result in streamlined school budgets while improving the educational performance of Alaska’s children, giving them opportunities for a better future. APF will launch the campaign in October 2020 and complete it by the summer of 2022.
Michigan’s education department and many school districts were woefully unprepared for the needed transition to remote learning during the coronavirus. Some districts provided students with no new content and required no real feedback or support from educators. Many lower-income families, including those in rural areas, lacked access to adequate internet service and operable devices to make use of remote learning.
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy will seek to expand public school choice and access to digital education in Michigan by easing current restrictions in state law. Mackinac proposes that Michigan should allow families to “purchase” educational content from providers outside their home district, either virtual courses or in-person instruction, as well as to purchase coaching, special needs services, school-related transportation or technology/internet services. This would increase access to online and blended learning for rural students, giving them the opportunity for better educational outcomes.
Mackinac Center Executive Vice President Michael Reitz added: “In the face of lingering public health uncertainties, it is imperative for Michigan to expand options for students, beginning with those in upper grades. Rather than dedicate more funding to the existing model, policymakers should empower students and families to craft a more personalized path to success, one that offers more options for more blended learning, inter-district enrollment, assorted pathways to graduation, academic coaching, and early college.” Mackinac is launching their campaign in September 2020.
Congratulations to the Alaska Policy Forum and Mackinac Center for working to ensure all children have access to the quality education they deserve. SPN is awarding each organization a $45,000 grant to bring these proposals to life.