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Return and recovery: Our 2023 outlook for K-12 education

Dec 14, 2022

To say that the education industry continues to reel from the gut punch caused by the COVID-19 pandemic would be a great understatement.

Among the greatest concerns dominating K-12 education in 2022 were the safe return to the classroom, putting federal recovery funds to good use and addressing lingering learning loss and social emotional impacts from the sudden shift to remote learning.

Like most industries in 2022, education also faced an employee shortage. To attract and retain educators, districts stepped out of traditional modes. Some touted signing bonuses, raised salaries, adjusted qualifications and reconsidered traditional best practices like step and lane and blurring the line between private and public school.

2023 trends in education: K-12 outlook

Headed into 2023, exhausted educators, students and caregivers will continue to deal with the effects of pandemic disruptions. But, equipped with a veritable library of lessons learned and focused attention to addressing what’s around the corner, the K-12 education industry as a whole can drive steady gains toward successful return and recovery.

Here are five 2023 trends and priorities:

1. Evaluate relief funding

As schools spend down Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) money, districts will need to evaluate and determine how to fund any new positions or ongoing programming created with federal funds. These include support for Title 1 populations who were disproportionally affected by the pandemic, classroom connectivity and social/emotional support. Districts that don’t address these issues now will likely be faced with reduction-in-force implementations later.

2. Combat learning loss

The lingering impact of learning loss as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic disruptions has been a clear and overriding concern of educators and caregivers since the threat of closures circulated in early 2022.

Now that everyone is back in the classroom, the short- and long-term effects of disruptions —both academic and social/emotional — remain a constant. Gaps in access, opportunities, achievement and outcomes continue to widen, exacerbating existing racial and socioeconomic inequities.

In addition to academic delays, students continue to suffer challenges to their wellbeing. Districts are finding ways to support students with interventions that address anxiety, utilize community resources and encourage connections.

3. Leverage technology, but don’t forget about connectivity

Many districts had developed blended or online options for learning before the rush to implement them as an in-classroom replacement became plagued with challenges.

While a disparity between households with and without devices could be bolstered by the mass purchase of Chromebooks for every student, it could not address widespread connectivity issues. Additionally, many administrators lack sufficient data needed to examine and recalibrate any positive outcomes from remote learning.

On the other hand, the urgent necessity of online learning widely expanded students’ access to intervention and other services once mostly considered legitimate only as in-person options.

Districts should view this use of technology as a formidable supplemental tool to classroom learning.

4. Navigate teacher shortages

Schools will continue to face a workforce plagued by mass burnout, an overwhelming need for additional support and the increased appeal of other job sectors. Perhaps the biggest challenge facing districts in 2023 is how to maintain the salaries, attractive recruitment methods and other advantages made possible by ESSER funds.

Additionally, schools will likely begin to experience the negative effects of stopgap measures like hiring underqualified teachers, increasing class size and cancelling courses. To combat these deficiencies, community organizations and mentorship programs are good resources to help fill gaps and facilitate a stable return to classroom as usual. There are many well-funded nonprofits with established track records that can be leveraged to deliver high-touch engagement.

5. Address inflation

The sudden rise and steady hold of inflation poses several challenges for districts. The rising cost of living has begun to swallow up any wage growth gained by many in recent labor negotiations.

Despite built-in elasticity of property taxes as it relates to inflation, most states are subject to restrictions that limit tax collection in relation to the Consumer Price Index or less. As educators’ demand for higher pay continues, it may result in a significant gap between the ability to generate revenue and pay their employees. This may quickly erode districts’ reserves and could result in cutting programs and increasing class sizes, which would further exasperate the learning loss experienced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Moving ahead, state and local policymakers should be encouraged to make the shift to prioritizing long-term budget sustainability over short-term fixes.

Help on the horizon

While the COVID-19 pandemic upended the educational system in profound ways beyond anyone’s control, it also helped reveal vulnerabilities that already existed.

Wipfli can help. Grounded with deep knowledge and driven by innovation, our professionals are equipped to provide holistic solutions to clarify strategic planning, improve student support, protect your assets and more.

Learn more about our education services.

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Wipfli Editorial Team