I’m in material agreement with the editors of the New York Times on this one. Schools need to reopen in the fall:
American children need public schools to reopen in the fall. Reading, writing and arithmetic are not even the half of it. Kids need to learn to compete and to cooperate. They need food and friendships; books and basketball courts; time away from family and a safe place to spend it.
Parents need public schools, too. They need help raising their children, and they need to work.
As I’ve pointed out before the big issue in reopening the schools won’t be children or parents. It will be faculty and staff. In New York State, for example, the median age for a teacher is 42.5 and nearly 30% are 50 or older.
There are major challenges:
The School Superintendents Association estimates that necessary protective measures would cost about $1.8 million for an average district of eight schools and 3,500 students. With more than 13,000 school districts in the United States, the total adds up.
In the United States the primary responsibility for schools belongs to the states. Here in Illinois that’s even in the state constitution. From Article X, Section 1:
A fundamental goal of the People of the State is the educational development of all persons to the limits of their capacities.
The State shall provide for an efficient system of high quality public educational institutions and services. Education in public schools through the secondary level shall be free. There may be such other free education as the General Assembly provides by law.
The State has the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education.
That hasn’t stopped the State of Illinois from being one of the lowest or the lowest in terms of the state’s contribution to education. In Illinois much of the expense falls on local districts which accounts at least in part for the enormous disparity in spending and outcomes among districts.
The editors’ notion, that the federal government should pick up the tab, is nonsense. It’s clearly a state responsibility.
The states will need to find ways to accommodate the new circumstances including a diversity of solutions and pay for the changes necessary. For some students “virtual education” is a fine solution. For some home schooling is the best alternative. For most there is no alternative to in-person education.
There will need to be a readjusting of priorities and those will be politically difficult. The federal government should emphatically not be in the business of sparing local politicians from making difficult choices.