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Arizona students’ learning loss could cost the state’s economy billions, a report says

With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, tens of millions of American families experienced learning disabilities in their children. Some schools were forced to close for extended periods, others adopted unique hybrid models, and still others transitioned to a fully digital educational experience. Despite these innovations, parents, educators and researchers recognized a troubling trend: student learning was taking a hit.

This intuition is now borne out by the latest data from NAEP, often referred to as the nation’s report card and “the only standardized, long-term measure of student academic learning for the nation.”

The 2022 NAEP results, the results of the first standardized assessments of students since the pandemic, show that two decades of progress in reading and math scores have been wiped out.

New research from the Common Sense Institute of Arizona, a think tank specializing in growth and market economics, examined how learning loss will impact the state of Arizona in particular.

Learning loss will not only deprive students of knowledge and learning, but will also negatively impact the nation’s growth and human flourishing, they say.

Their predictions are startling: CSI Arizona estimates that learning loss will cost Arizona up to $5.8 billion in economic output over the next decade. Additionally, the report’s authors estimate the state will have 18,000 fewer high school graduates and 32,000 fewer college graduates by 2032.

The report’s authors argue that the learning loss experienced during the pandemic will have far-reaching impacts across the state and on the lives of this “lost generation” of students.

Education has a positive impact on a number of variables in a person’s life, including, but not limited to, employment, income levels, and the likelihood of being arrested or incarcerated.

  • The unemployment rate for Americans with a bachelor’s degree is 2.2%, as opposed to a 3.9% unemployment rate for those with only a high school diploma.
  • Americans with a bachelor’s degree have a median household income of $105,000, compared to $46,800 for those with only a high school degree.
  • In general, the probability of crime among men without a school diploma is significantly higher than among all other social population groups.

The report shows that there could be at least 1,500 more violent crimes in Arizona by 2032 due to learning loss. “CSI estimates that the increase in crime due to learning loss in the pandemic would cost Arizonans between $38.1 million and $175.1 million per year, or a total of $456 billion to $2.1 billion over the next 12 years .”

Katie Ratlief, the institute’s executive director, emphasized the seriousness of the report’s findings but also maintained hope.

“But here’s the good news: Our analysis assumes that this learning loss is permanent. And it doesn’t have to be this way,” she said. “The federal government has provided more than $277 billion in one-time emergency aid to American schools to mitigate some of these recent losses, and over $4.5 billion of that went to Arizona public schools.”

Half of this aid money remains unused, says Ratlief. “If schools, parents and policymakers can address and reverse these trends, the impacts estimated here could be mitigated.”

How might policymakers allocate these resources and implement reforms to mitigate these negative impacts?

The learning loss caused by the pandemic could be the very tipping point that prompts parents, educators and lawmakers in Arizona to work together to address not only pandemic-related learning loss, but also longer-standing problems in the state’s education system.

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