Study: COVID cost Arkansas students $6.6 billion in lifetime earnings

Close-up of elementary school girl in face mask studying
Photo: Allison Shelley/EDUimages

(The Center Square) – Months of educational setbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic are projected to create a $6.6 billion in total lifetime earnings loss for Arkansas students, according to a collaborative study on pandemic learning loss by Harvard and Stanford universities.

Researchers at Harvard’s Center of Educational Policy Research and the Educational Opportunity Project at Standard released their co-findings on the pandemic’s impact on students in 40 states, including Arkansas, between 2019 and 2022. The collaborative research effort, entitled the Education Recovery Scorecard, measures how the time loss in classroom learning would affect students’ potential earnings later in life across thousands of communities around the nation.

“It’s not readily visible to parents when their children have fallen behind earlier cohorts, but the data from 7,800 school districts show clearly that this is the case,” said Sean Reardon, Professor of Poverty and Inequality at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. “Our research shows that schools were far from the only cause of decreased learning—the pandemic affected children through many ways – but they are the institution best suited to remedy the unequal impacts of the pandemic.”

According to the Education Recovery Scorecard, Arkansas public students in grades K-12 statewide lost approximately five months of learning in math and almost three months in reading between 2019 and 2022, on average.

This learning loss over time equates to an estimated economic loss of an average of $13,575 per student for the state, the study says, based on data from the National Bureau of Economic Research. Total economic earning loss statewide as a result of the pandemic learning setbacks is around $6,601,787,867 unless officials act to make up for the losses.

While learning loss varied across districts in the state, the data shows that all Arkansas school districts experienced some level of loss in math. Regarding reading, only 11 school districts had reported scores at pre-pandemic levels or experienced a slight increase overall from 2019 to 2022.

Districts that saw the most significant loss in the arithmetic included the Conway Schools, West Memphis Schools and Little Rock Schools. On average, students in Conway School systems had an equivalent to an eight-month loss in math education. West Memphis students experienced an estimated 7.5-month loss in math, while Little Rock schools followed closely behind with almost seven months of math learning lost per average student.

Of the state schools, the districts with the higher than-state average lifetime earning losses noted were the Benton School District and Little Rock Schools. According to the study, Little Rock students have a projected economic earning loss of $381,032,615, equating to an average of $17,631 per student. With only a total economic loss of $96,249,634, Benton school district’s had the second highest reported per-student loss with an average of $17,548 per student.

Carolyn Grindrod
Carolyn Grindrod is a contributor at The Center Square.

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