K-12 School Reopening Trends

December 6, 2021

For more detail on Burbio's dataset, please email dennis@burbio.com

Where We Are Now

This is Dennis from Burbio. Below is our weekly update. Feel free to share.

We saw a smaller increase in disruptions this week versus the November period.  Some districts are closing for days in advance of Christmas. We present maps comparing the scope of the two big disruption spikes of the year - the mid-August to mid-September period versus November - and note trends around mask-optional districts, Superintendent notes about student behavior, and retention bonuses.   

To date we have now tracked $40+ billion of ESSER III allocations from over 1,600 districts that make up 39% of US K-12 students and we offer some additional perspective on that spending.   More below. 

Burbio School Opening Tracker-- With School Disruption Map Added

Burbio's School Mask Policy Tracker

Trends and Observations

  • The cumulative number of districts affected by closures this year went from 916 to 948 (+32) while cumulative school closures went from 9,313 to 9,606 (+293).  Below is a chart of school closures by start-week for this current academic year:
  • During the August-September period school disruptions were driven by Covid 19 cases and quarantine policies and tended to be individual schools rather than district-wide, and for longer periods.    The closures in November had a high percentage of mental-health closures that were scheduled in advance, with a heavy mix of last second closures that had staffing shortages as the stated reason.    Closures in November were more likely to be entire districts.  Below we offer a breakdown of closures for the two periods: 

  • This past Spring the Federal government authorized $122 billion in spending termed "ESSER III'' for "Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief,'' allocated on the basis of Title I. Ninety percent of the spending goes directly to local districts termed "Local Education Authorities " (LEAs). Timing of the spending plan approvals and disclosures varies by state. Burbio's team has now compiled plans covering $40 billion of spending across 1,600+ districts with 39% of the US K-12 school population.     

Districts' grant allocation per student varies.  This week we break down the percent of districts spending in an area based on the dollars per student they receive under the legislation. Burbio tracks over 50 categories of spending and below are some examples. The blue bar is the percent of districts spending in a category that receive over $3,000 per student, the red bar is districts that have received less than $1,500 per student.  Note that our research shows districts receiving $3,000+ per student are spending in an average of 16 categories, districts with less than $1,500 spend in average of 11.

  • From around the country:  

  • The number of Top 500 districts that are mask-optional increased to 177 from 169 last week.   On October 15th, 101 of the Top 500 districts were mask-optional.  The number of Top 200 mask optional districts increased from 76 to 83, up from a low of 50 on October 1st.  
  • The Governor of New Mexico issued an order requiring Covid 19 booster shots that covers school employees in the state. 
  • Early release days have been a common feature of K-12  academic calendars for years, and as such it is difficult for us to track the exact number of incremental days we are seeing, but it is increasing.  The Montgomery County, MD Board of Education  added multiple early release days to the schedule, plus some full day closures.  Harrisonburg City Schools, VA has been shortening the school day by an hour since October and is deciding whether to continue the practice.   Wayne-Westland, MI schools under "District News" reports a half-day virtual session by saying " We will ''go virtual' on Wednesday morning to see how well all students and staff can shift to online learning and teaching right after being face to face."
  • We rarely see Superintendents letters talk directly about student behavior but this note from Shrewsbury, MA does so. "We are experiencing a variety of issues stemming from the disruptions related to this long-lasting pandemic and other societal problems.  A number of students are demonstrating difficulty with reacclimating to a more typical school environment and experiencing increased levels of social, emotional, behavioral, and mental health concerns," the Superintendent reports.  
  • This note out of Appleton Village, ME offers another window into school operations.  "One final request," it reads, "Our nurses have taken on an incredible amount of extra work and responsibility . . .    . Our nurses have been subjected to angry words from parents, guardians and in some cases, students! Please practice kindness whenever you have a chance to speak to one of the nurses. They are all dedicated, kind, thoughtful professionals who are doing their best in a difficult situation."
  • Aiken County, SC schools is considering adopting a modified calendar that would shorten summer break and have two week breaks interspersed throughout the year.  Benefits cited include reducing burnout, reducing the "summer slide" and extra academic and enrichment opportunities. 
  • We continue to see incentive payments across the landscape.  Caddo Parish Public Schools, LA will disburse an incremental $2.500 per staffer over the academic year.   Gwinnett County, GA will pay $1,000 per employee. Randolph, NC school district will pay between $2,500 and $5,000 per staffer in "Premium Pay."  Hamtramck, MI schools are offering $100 bonuses to substitutes who work ten straight days and $7,000 signing bonuses for new teachers.   This report out of Twin Falls, ID describes $1,500 bonuses for paraeducators.   Out of Texas Arlington ISD approved a $500 bonus for all district employees, Houston ISD doubled hourly rates for teachers providing academic tutorials, Ysleta ISD raised their day rate for substitute teachers and nurses, and Dallas ISD announced a series of retention bonuses for 2022/23 to be paid for out of ESSER funds. 
  • This message from Portland, MI offers insight into staffing shortages and the role substitutes play in keeping schools operating.  "Our subs are not just used to cover absent teachers but we also use them to provide coverage when a teacher needs to develop plans and learn strategies to support individual students and groups of students," reads the letter.  "Without a sub pool, we are only 'getting by' and that isn’t going to work for our community."

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