NEWARK, NJ – Newark parents believe the city’s school district should invest the hundreds of millions of dollars it is receiving in federal pandemic funding on better resources for schools and teachers, support for students’ emotional and mental health, and direct grants to families, according to a poll conducted by Newark-based nonprofit Project Ready.
Change Research, a San Francisco-based data collection group, polled hundreds of Newark school parents regarding the city schools’ priorities for federal funding, the financial impact of the pandemic and access to technology. The Newark Public Schools District is slated to receive three portions of COVID-19 relief aid totaling $282 million.
When respondents were asked to choose one to three choices from a list for allocating that funding, Project Ready officials said that two main themes emerged: investing in better resources for schools and teachers and devoting funds to support students’ emotional and mental health.
“Newark has received a once-in-a-generation influx of federal funds, and parents are speaking loudly and clearly about how they want to see these funds used,” Project Ready CEO Shennell McCloud told TAPinto Newark. “Parents want to see more resources for students and teachers, more investment in students’ mental health, and they want to have a say in how these dollars are spent, in the form of grants directly to families. We hope Newark’s leaders will heed the wishes of families as they develop their spending plans for this funding.”
In past polls, Project Ready, a local social justice advocacy group, has surveyed Newark residents on an array of community-related topics, including the city’s Guaranteed Income Pilot Program, COVID-19 vaccines, and voting in local elections.
During this most recent poll, the most common option selected by parents (47%) was equipping teachers with better materials and resources. The second and fourth most selected options were providing tools and support for students’ emotional and mental health (42%) and providing tools to help teachers with students’ academic and mental well-being (38%). The third most-selected option from parents (39%) was to provide direct grants to parents of $500 per child.
The poll results come after schools citywide reopened over the last several weeks for full-time, in-person instruction since COVID-19 forced the lights out on classrooms about 18 months ago.
With students separated from their teachers and classmates for over a year and forced to learn remotely from home, the effects of virtual learning proved to be devastating.
Earlier this year, reports surfaced of the severe learning loss Newark students experienced during COVID. Spring 2021 test scores showed that just 9% of students in grades 2-8 met state expectations in math while 11% of students met expectations in reading.
When a study conducted by JerseyCAN, a nonprofit focused on advocating for high-quality schools for all New Jersey students, took a quantified look at how the pandemic affected students’ academic progress statewide during the 2020-21 school year, the numbers proved to be just as grim.
The study revealed that across the board students lost significant amounts of expected learning in the first half of the 2020-21 school year, with Black and Latinx students losing more learning than their peers.
On average, New Jersey students lost 30% of expected learning in English Language Arts (ELA) and 36% of expected learning in math. The loss was greater for Black students who lost on average 43% in ELA and 50% in math, according to the report. Similarly, Latinx students lost 37% of expected learning in ELA and 40% in math.
As school leaders and education advocates now work to address severe learning loss among a whole slew of other obstacles facing students upon their return to the classroom this school year, Project Ready’s poll shows that there’s evidence of parents wanting more dedicated funding to these issues.
Expansion of high-quality tutoring programs (37%) and dedicated funding for students with greater learning needs (34%) were two more prominent issues parents want to see city schools allocate federal monies towards, the poll showed.
The poll also revealed two of the biggest challenges Newark parents dealt with during the pandemic, which included its financial impact and getting remote access for students when working remotely.
A combined 69% of parents said the pandemic has had a very (29%) or somewhat (40%) negative impact on their household financial situation, while 22% said it has made no difference, and only 10% said it has had a positive impact.
Additionally, 14% of parents said they didn’t have sufficient, reliable internet access at home. When asked if parents had a sufficient number of devices in their home, 32% said they didn’t.
Change Research polled 301 parents of school-aged children in Newark from Aug. 27, 2021 to Sept. 7, 2021. The margin of error as traditionally calculated is 5.66%. Post-stratification weighting was performed on gender, race/ethnicity, education, and zip code. Weighting parameters were based on census data, according to Project Ready.