ATLANTA — Persistent teacher shortages, increased workloads and lost learning are the consequences of schools shutting down during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent survey of teachers by the state’s largest education association.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has placed new demands on Georgia’s public schools…with no guidebook for best practices to operate,” noted Claire Suggs, senior policy analyst with the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, who authored the 2021 Legislative Survey report.

Nearly 6,300 educators in Georgia responded to the PAGE survey, representing 171 of the state’s 180 school districts. The results of the survey, conducted in November and December, are used for advocacy efforts at the state and local level.

The survey found the pandemic had direct effects on academics, student well-being and family needs, along with the need to adapt existing policies on student instruction and assessments.

School districts began the 2020-21 school year with a $1 billion cut in funding from the previous year which impacted the ability to manage COVID demands at the start.

CARES act federal funding last spring filled the gaps, and an increase in state funding and additional stimulus funds this year will make up much of the lost revenue and added expenses moving forward.

“Though deeply challenging, current circumstances [because of COVID] provide an opportunity for policymakers and educators to build on the policies and practices they have already implemented to support public schools,” Suggs wrote in the report.

Of primary concern cited by educators was the demands placed on them to teach students in both classroom and virtual formats, as well as trying to stem the loss of learning after months of flux.

One high school teacher said her students were “missing prior skills they were supposed to gain last spring which makes it difficult to build on top of them [because] math builds as the years progress.”

Fewer than 20 percent of educators believe the state’s annual Milestones Assessments, help educators improve student learning.

Many educators said students are challenged outside of school by the fear of COVID, disruptions in daily routines and food insecurities, especially during breaks and weekends. More than half of teachers said tending to their students’ social and emotional well-being was as important as academics.

Based on the survey results, PAGE recommendations for policymakers include support for student mental health, continuation of efforts to fully fund schools, making Georgia the top state in which to teach by investing in educators, and aligning assessments to meet parent and student needs.

A copy of the PAGE survey results can be found at https://www.pageinc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/2021-Legislative-Survey-Report.pdf.

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