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Menendez Meets With Parents at Kearny High School to Discuss Learning Loss in the Pandemic

Photo & Video Credit: Senator Menendez


Senator highlights Kearny School District’s use of ARP funding to address learning loss

KEARNY, N.J. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) today hosted a roundtable with parents, educators, and administrators to discuss the learning loss students have experienced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March 2020, when the pandemic forced schools to transition to remote and hybrid classes, students across the state and country have fallen behind in their academics, while dealing with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.

“One of the most pressing concerns for families and educators across the nation is the learning loss facing students due to disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In New Jersey, studies show that a third of students are performing below grade level in math and language arts, with that number increasing to 50 percent for Black and Latino students,” said Sen. Menendez. “That is why I was proud to work with my Democratic colleagues in Washington to pass President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which provided New Jersey’s K-12 schools with more than $2.76 billion in emergency relief funding. Getting this funding into New Jersey’s schools is the key to making up for lost classroom time by providing tutoring before and after school, counseling services, and other resources to struggling parents and children.”



The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) that was signed into law last spring included $2.76 billion in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding to help Pre-K-12 public schools across New Jersey safely reopen and address the academic, social, emotional and mental health needs of their students.

New Jersey’s implementation plan allocated 90% of ARP ESSER funding directly to local school districts. School districts must use 20% of their funding for learning loss activities that address social, emotional and academic needs and the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on students from low income and minority families. 5% of the overall ARP ESSER funding was reserved for state-level learning loss activities.

Earlier this year, the New Jersey Department of Education released data from state assessments showing only 64% of students meet or exceed grade-level proficiency in language arts and only 62% of students are at grade-level proficiency in math. The numbers are even lower for African American, Asian and Hispanic students.

Kearny School District serves over 5,000 students and 68% of those students identify as Hispanic or Latino, Asian or African American. 11% of students are English language learners and 18% require special education.

Through the ARP, Kearny received over $11 million in ESSER funding. With that funding, Kearny was able to hire an ESL coach and a social worker. They were also able to implement a K-8 after school program, training for teachers to better help ESL students, and HVAC upgrades in five elementary schools. The school district has also worked on closing the digital divide by providing Chromebooks to all students, iPads for early childhood students and WiFi Hotspots for families with connectivity issues.

Kearny Assistant Superintendent Flora Encarnacao, New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) President Sean Spiller, teachers, and parents of Kearny students attended today’s roundtable at Kearny High School.

“For the past two years of this pandemic, our schools have done a herculean job. But we know remote learning is no substitute for the classroom experience. Teachers, parents, students, and school support staff need our help,” said Congressman Pascrell. “Working with President Biden, Congressional Democrats passed the landmark American Rescue Plan which included $2.7 billion for New Jersey schools. Importantly, our bill required at least one-fifth of these funds to go toward lost educational opportunities, like after school and summer programs for our students. Students here in Kearny and across our state deserve the valuable educational experiences they have lost.”

“As a former teacher, I am deeply concerned about the impact of the pandemic on our children’s academic future,” said Congressman Albio Sires. “We need to adapt to new challenges to ensure we continue providing our future generations with the tools they need to succeed. That is why the funding in the American Rescue Plan is so important, it will help our schools address the learning loss and provide vital support for students and their families.”


“We are extremely grateful for Senator Menendez’s continued support of educational initiatives, especially for the assistance he has provided not only to the Kearny School District, but to every school district in New Jersey and throughout our country,” said Patricia Blood, Superintendent of Kearny Public Schools. “His work in helping to pass the American Rescue Plan and the additional funding it has provided to support student learning during the course of the pandemic and into the future, has had a tremendous impact on our ability to enhance student learning and provide the essential components to ensure educational success for all of our students.”

“I’m glad that we are having discussions about how to use the resources we have available — thanks to leaders like Senator Menendez — to ensure that our most vulnerable students, in some of our traditionally underserved communities, along with all the students we educate, will have better facilities, better supports and better opportunities than ever before,” said NJEA President Sean M. Spiller.

“New Jersey has been utilizing the approximately $4 billion in federal funding throughout the pandemic to address mental and emotional health and educational needs. A great amount of discretion has been afforded in how funds can be used to support learning acceleration, one of the most significant challenges facing our schools,” said Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillian, Acting Commissioner of Education. “The New Jersey Department of Education has provided numerous resources such as Learning Acceleration Grants, funding for summer learning and enrichment activities, initiatives to foster coaching and educator support to accelerate student learning, and Start Strong assessments to help educators identify student needs.”


For photos of today’s event, click here.

The pandemic has also exacerbated the difficulties many parents face with affordable child care. At a Senate Banking Committee hearing in December, Sen. Menendez pushed for the expansion of access to affordable child care. The senator pointed out the many benefits of expanding access to affordable child care, such as improving labor force participation, especially amongst minority women.

Last year, Sen. Menendez introduced the Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act, which would address growing issues of suicide and mental health facing young people, particularly in socially and economically disadvantaged communities that have disproportionately faced disparities in access to mental health treatment and outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic.