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Nebraska education chief takes pandemic-related message to Capitol Hill

By: - September 21, 2022 3:30 am

(Getty Images)

Nebraska’s education commissioner told a congressional panel Tuesday that this school year in Husker territory started with “much more reason for optimism.”

“I am hearing that schools believe student negative behaviors that were markedly up in ‘21-’22 seem, at least for now, to have waned,” Matthew Blomstedt said in testimony prepared for a U.S. House education and labor subcommittee that met in Washington, D.C.

(Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

He credited increased attention to the social and emotional needs of students, buoyed by COVID-related resources. In highlighting benefits of federal pandemic aid, he said the state has invested in mental and behavioral health support and teacher training.

“Anecdotally, the numbers and access to licensed mental health providers in schools and for communities has been a focus that has assisted both classroom teachers and students and families,” he said.

Blomstedt, who is a director on the board of the nonpartisan Council of Chief State School Officers, spoke about Nebraska’s journey since March 2020 and the impact of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) that was established as part of the CARES Act.

The subcommittee’s topic was: Back to School: Meeting Students’ Academic, Social and Emotional Needs.

Among Blomstedt’s points:

  • Chronic absenteeism in Nebraska saw a striking 70% jump in the midst of the pandemic, from 45,000 before the pandemic to 77,000 in school year 2020-21.
  • The math achievement gap between English learners and all students increased 5 percentage points on statewide assessments.

Blomstedt noted that research before the pandemic showed that as few as four days of school absence in a year had a significant negative impact on achievement as measured by state assessment.

The good news, he said, is that ESSER provided a safe return to in-school learning and bridged the digital divide by providing devices and stable internet connectivity.

Blomstedt said he is concerned about deadlines to spend the remainder of federal resources.

“Regardless of accounting timelines, Nebraska endeavors to invest and target funds where they are most needed,” he said. “We are just beginning to see the fruits of those investments and will continue to measure progress in the year ahead.”

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Cindy Gonzalez
Cindy Gonzalez

Senior Reporter Cindy Gonzalez, an Omaha native, has more than 35 years of experience, largely at the Omaha World-Herald. Her coverage areas have included business and real estate development; regional reporting; immigration, demographics and diverse communities; and City Hall and local politics. She has won awards from organizations including Great Plains Journalism, the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW) and the Associated Press. Cindy has been recognized by various nonprofits for community contributions and diversity efforts. She chairs the board that oversees the local university’s student newspaper.

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