New Jersey Lawmaker Wants to Create a State ‘Learning Loss Czar’

A new bill would create a statewide education office to combat educational delays and regressions commonly cited as a result of pandemic-related school disruptions, one of a slew of bills lawmakers have introduced to combat so-called learning loss.

The measure (S3518) would create an Office of the Learning Loss Czar within the executive branch to work with the Department of Education. The new position would be tasked with finding educational tools that have shown to be effective in “identifying and reversing student learning loss.” Those tools would go to a “resource bank” that school districts could access and submit their own ideas to, the bill says.

The position would be a gubernatorial appointment and they would serve the length of that governor’s term.

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Few bills targeting learning loss have advanced out of the full Legislature. The one to create a learning loss czar was introduced by state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), who has sponsored dozens of bills to increase the number of teachers statewide, require officials to study high school dropout rates, push for more studies on learning loss, and more.

Assemblywoman Vicky Flynn (R-Monmouth) has introduced her own bill to create a learning loss task force, which she suggested could be combined with Ruiz’s bill or other education legislation.

“Every day that passes that we don’t address how this impacts kids more and more, we’re widening the gaps that exist today,” Flynn said in an interview. “Until these bills are moved forward, I don’t think the Department of Education will take it seriously.”

Flynn said this should be a top priority of the Legislature. As long as these bills go without advancing, she said, “it’s a wasted opportunity to address this crisis.”

Results from standardized tests given last spring show students in grades 3 to 9 scored lower on nearly every measure since 2015, when the test was first administered. The data was our first glimpse at how COVID-related school disruptions affected test scores.

Flynn said while she’d like to work with Ruiz and other Democrats on policies addressing what students lost during the pandemic, she also wants to see bills that have already been introduced see some movement.

“Quite honestly, I don’t think any other educational bills should be presented unless they address learning loss, state funding, and mental health needs of our students. I think that needs to be a main focus as a Legislature right now,” she added.

The governor launched a partnership program in December for 5,000 volunteers and community organizations to work with struggling students.

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