As school budgets were slashed in the wake of the Great Recession little more than a decade ago, the federal government funneled billions of dollars toward school improvement as part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009.

With the global economy entering a recession brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, University of Washington College of Education Professor Min Sun says policymakers today would do well to learn from the past.

In a new podcast, Sun, who has studied the impact of $7 billion spent on School Improvement Grants starting in 2010, discussed why reinvesting in disadvantaged schools is a key strategy for economic recovery. Sun, director of the UW’s Education Policy Analytics Lab, recently wrote a commentary for The Brookings Institution offering lessons to policymakers.

“School and district leaders are now understandably swamped with the tasks at hand, such as satisfying the basic needs of students and staff, and engaging parents and communities to plan school reopenings in the fall,” Sun said. “However, we must not overlook the value of more strategic investments that help build schools’ long-term capacity. If we make strategic plans now, we may have both a better chance to recover from the disruptions of student learning this spring and even harness the power of new innovations and adaptations due to the pandemic for long-term benefits.”

Sun’s key lessons for policymakers are:

  • Rebuilding our school system should be regarded as an investment in upgrading the basic infrastructure of our economy.
  • Reinvestment should encourage bold innovations that build long-term capacity of public schools.
  • Sustainable pathways should focus on rebuilding the educator workforce, using data to drive continuous improvement cycles, and from a systemic perspective.

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Min Sun, Associate Professor of Education

Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications