Last year I wrote about how understaffing at the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) — which collects and disseminates vital data used to make policy — was threatening the government agency’s mission. Now President Biden has called for up-to-date data on learning during the pandemic — but the agency is stretched too thin to do it without new funding, experts say.

Dozens of organizations concerned about the NCES sent a letter (see below) Monday to key U.S. legislators asking them to give $10 million to the agency so it can do the data collecting that Biden is seeking.

“Essential to reopening schools and returning students and teachers to the classroom safely and securely is taking rapid steps based on accurate, timely, and objective statistics,” the letter says.

Its signatories include the American Statistical Association, American Psychological Association, American Sociological Association, National Center for Learning Disabilities and the two national teachers unions: the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers.

“Information about such issues as in-person student attendance rates; absentee rates for in-person and distance learning; teacher absence-due-to-covid-99-contraction, retention, and recruitment; student achievement; access to quality afterschool and summer learning opportunities; and covid-19 mitigation steps already in place is fundamental to identifying efficient, effective, and timely strategies for helping our schools and students,” it says.

It also says better data is needed on the “disparate impact of the pandemic, school disruptions, and learning loss that have been particularly acute for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds,” as well as “better data on students’ learning experiences.”

But “because of severe staffing and budget constraints (as reported in spring 2020), NCES is stretched too thin to attempt this undertaking without the infusion of additional funding,” the letter says. It asks for an appropriation of $5 million for NCES.

The letter was sent to Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), as chair of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and human services, education, and related agencies; Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), as ranking Republican of that panel; Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.), chairwoman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and human services, education, and related agencies; and Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), ranking-minority member of that House panel.

“If our nation is to effectively address the unprecedented educational challenges brought about by the pandemic, we will need objective, accurate, and timely data to inform policy and decision-making at the local, state, and national levels,” it says, asking for $5 million in emergency funding this fiscal year and again in appropriations for the next fiscal year.

Here’s the full letter: