At some point during the next Missouri governor's term, the immediate disruptions to schools caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will probably end, but the state and its leaders may have to contend with a slip in students' academic skill levels caused by extended school closures and remote learning.
Incumbent Republican Gov. Mike Parson — when asked at the recent gubernatorial candidate forum about strategies the state should pursue to regain lost academic ground — emphasized 85 percent of schools are open, and 75 percent of the state's students are in classrooms or using a hybrid learning model.
Parson said that's "because of the actions we took through the summer to make sure these kids were safe to go back to school." Though he also credited school administrators for their input and said he trusts local leaders' decisions, he did not immediately answer the question about potential learning loss.
Parson's campaign manager Steele Shippy said Friday the governor "is especially concerned about low-income students who have been disproportionately impacted by school closures" and added Parson and his administration took action starting in May to "address learning acceleration by working with experts and stakeholders in the education community."
That's a reference to a task force created in May by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to address the impact of school closures in the spring and develop recommendations and tools to assess and address learning loss.
The task force ultimately recommended school leaders and teachers focus on keeping students on grade level in their activities this school year instead of trying to teach everything that was not mastered in the spring. It was recommended tests be used to see what students need before they are given new grade-level content, then provide the most critical information to students.
Parson also set aside $10 million for testing "so we can measure the impact of lost learning and then take appropriate steps to address it," Shippy added
Central Missouri Newspapers asked Nicole Galloway, current state auditor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate, during a virtual campaign event Friday how she, as governor, would plan to address the extent to which students have fallen behind in skills such as reading and math, and what a fair way is of holding schools accountable as they help students catch up.
Galloway said there are resources through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act "that are sitting there right now, that could be deployed, to help schools open again and give schools the additional resources that they need."
"Fighting COVID is going to be the No. 1 way that we can get our schools open for full, in-person learning," she said.
"I would work with local school districts to identify additional learning needs or resources that they would need to help bridge this gap in learning," she added.
Libertarian candidate Rik Combs said to address lost learning, "the schools first need to be open and children back in schools across the state. Local districts would have to determine mitigation and/or remedial work to catch children back up on lost time and learning. I'm a firm believer in local control with regard to education."
Green Party candidate Jerome Bauer did not respond for further comment in time for publication, but he said during the forum that while sending students back to school is important, it's also important to remember the pandemic won't last forever. In the meantime, he said, "it's important to err on the side of safety when our children's health is at stake."
Bauer said administrators should be flexible and continue to be open to the possibility of going back to remote learning, but in order for that to work, he said all students — across income levels — need access to computer equipment and broadband internet, and that should also be accessible for people with disabilities.