FILE - Gov. J.B. Pritzker, 3-31-21

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a school on Wednesday, March 31, 2021.

(The Center Square) – Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois State Board of Education are providing a roadmap for school districts on how to spend $7 billion in federal pandemic relief funds provided in the American Rescue Plan to address learning loss and other educational problems that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Learning Renewal Resource Guide details 12 strategies that school districts and higher education institutions can consider to address the pandemic’s short and long-term impacts. The 180-page guide offers ideas from experts and stakeholders from around the state to assist school districts in renewing learning and provide ongoing feedback.

Pritzker said Illinois schools will receive $7 billion over the next several years from the American Rescue Plan.

“All of it focused on learning renewal, and all of it focused on what kinds of summer programs are necessary, what kinds of tutoring may be necessary for kids who may need some extra assistance, mental health support and so on, all of which may be the effects of the pandemic,” Pritzker said.

Melissa Figueira, with the education policy organization Advance Illinois, said fixing Illinois’ education system will not happen overnight.

“The hard reality is that recover and renewal will likely take years,” Figueira said. “While we are eager to go back to normal, we must remember that learning renewal should be viewed as a marathon, not a sprint.”

Figueira said Illinois has seen an estimated drop in enrollment of 35,822 students, or 1.9% drop from the prior year’s enrollment. Kindergarten through third grade saw the steepest decline, as much as 20% to 50% in some areas of the state, Figueira said.

Dr. Carmen Ayala, superintendent of the Illinois State Board of Education, said at an event Wednesday in South Elgin that nearly all of the state’s more than 850 school districts have returned to offer some in-person instruction.

The state Board of Education’s Coronavirus dashboard shows some districts are still fully remote, while 50% of districts are using a hybrid approach with both in-person and remote learning options available.

“This guide provides a roadmap for how our education system can emerge from the pandemic stronger,” Ayala said. “That journey begins with getting students back into the classroom as soon and as much as possible.”

In addition to the guide, Illinois state education agencies will focus on four goals to support schools, which include tutoring, interim assessment, social and emotional learning, and early childhood programs.

Staff Reporter

Kevin Bessler reports on statewide issues in Illinois for the Center Square. He has over 30 years of experience in radio news reporting throughout the Midwest.