“There is no such thing as learning loss,” according to Cecily Myart-Cruz, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, “Our kids didn’t lose anything. It’s OK that our babies may not have learned all their times tables. They learned resilience. They learned survival. They learned critical-thinking skills. They know the difference between a riot and a protest. They know the words insurrection and coup.”

Wrong. Learning loss is real. Educational disruptions such as school closures and remote learning, often inflicted upon students in response to teachers’ unions’ demands, led to sharp declines in reading and math scores. According to McKinsey and Company analysis

Some students who have disengaged from school altogether may have slipped backward, losing knowledge or skills they once had. The majority simply learned less than they would have in a typical year, but this is nonetheless important. Students who move on to the next grade unprepared are missing key building blocks of knowledge that are necessary for success, while students who repeat a year are much less likely to complete high school and move on to college. And it’s not just academic knowledge these students may miss out on. They are at risk of finishing school without the skills, behaviors, and mindsets to succeed in college or in the workforce.

A recently published National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) report examined spring 2021 standardized test scores from 12 states. Researchers found, “large reductions in test scores between 2020-21 and previous years. The average decline in math is 14.2 percentage points, versus 6.3 percentage points in English language Arts (ELA).” ELA scores declined more significantly in districts with larger populations of Black, Hispanic, and economically disadvantaged students. 

According to the NBER report, test scores declined less in districts that offered more in-person instruction. The authors found that “interactions between test score losses and schooling mode are highly significant.” 

School closures also resulted in young students unprepared to read, students with special needs lacking skills due to denied instruction and services, and widespread behavioral and emotional impacts on students of all ages.

Fortunately, states like North Carolina are investing in educational approaches that will address learning loss and offer more families educational freedom. North Carolina’s recently passed 2022 state budget provides specific funding to low-income parents in order to address learning loss; provides transportation funding for students attending charter schools; and expands the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program.

The Opportunity Scholarship Program enables low-income North Carolina families to send their children to participating private schools. The state budget increases the existing scholarship cap of $4,200 to the equivalent of 90% of the state per-pupil funding for traditional public school students. Removing the cap will provide families with scholarship amounts equal to the average tuition for North Carolina private schools, giving families more options and purchasing power. The Opportunity Scholarship Program’s income eligibility criteria and annual funding will expand, as well.

In addition, the state budget combines two existing programs to create the North Carolina Personal Education Students Accounts for Children with Disabilities Program. Students with significant disabilities can qualify for scholarships of up to $17,000.

North Carolina’s budget empowers parents whose children are not being served well by their assigned public school to find educational options that meet their academic needs and align with their values. Tarheel state residents join families from across the country who are benefiting from the “Year of School Choice.” Close to 20 states already passed legislation expanding existing school choice programs or creating new programs this year. 

As states prepare for 2022 legislative sessions, state legislators should commit to ensuring that every student can access educational options that will meet their needs. Expanding and creating school choice programs will help more students leave the negligent traditional public schools that created our country’s learning loss crisis. Parents will have the leverage they need to ensure that their children will not be left behind.