President Biden's plan calls for $50 billion to scale up COVID-19 testing to support safe school reopening and protect at-risk populations like those in prisons and long-term care facilities. The plan also calls for $130 billion to help schools safely reopen and identifies summer school or other supports to help students compensate for lost learning time as permissible uses of this funding.

new RAND working paper examines the experiences of schools and districts that have already implemented COVID-19 testing to facilitate in-person learning. Researchers found that costs related to testing and increased labor needs posed significant barriers for these “early adopters.”

Early adopters relied on a variety of resources—including federal CARES Act funding—to address labor costs. However, these costs were not solely a challenge of resources, but also of capacity and expertise. While some early adopters were able to implement testing “in house” with local volunteers and by hiring and training new staff, others benefited greatly from partnering with vendors who could provide technical assistance around the design of programs or who could handle administration and other logistics.

Unfortunately, reopening schools is merely the first step toward addressing the education losses brought about by COVID-19. RAND research shows that students are likely not getting all the curriculum content and instruction they would have received in a normal school year, and in a fall survey, more than a quarter of teachers indicated that a majority of their students were significantly less prepared to participate in grade-level work this school year relative to last school year. These statistics are even more troubling when the effects of COVID-19 on students who were already vulnerable to falling behind were examined, raising concerns that the pandemic might exacerbate existing inequities facing low-income and minority students.

Read the full article about learning loss by Grace Evans, Heather L. Schwartz, and Benjamin K. Master at RAND Corporation.