Financial Relief Will Enable U.S. Schools to Reopen Safely
The pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the U.S. education system. For nearly a year, as many as three million children have gone without access to education. Another nine million children without Internet access are falling behind their peers. Furthermore, remote learning during the pandemic has deepened inequities in the U.S. education system.
Every state has approached the matter of reopening schools differently, without sufficient guidance or support from the federal government. As a result, access to quality learning has been highly unequal. The U.S. must find a way to reopen K-12 schools safely to avoid further learning loss. Signed into law on March 10, the American Rescue Plan allocates nearly $130 billion for K-12 schools. Immediate financial relief will enable schools to deliver more effective remote learning and begin to reopen safely. Such aid will accomplish the following:
Improve infrastructure. The existence of health and safety infrastructure is essential for schools to safely reopen. The Biden administration has committed to providing adequate funding for testing and safety measures in order to reopen schools. Teachers’ unions across the country have demanded the vaccination of teachers and sufficient funding for schools to purchase masks, install ventilation, and employ support staff. Improvements in infrastructure will build the resiliency of the educational system to avoid future crises.
Minimize gaps in student achievement. With sufficient funding, schools will be able to reopen more quickly and students will not suffer from further learning loss. The funding in the American Rescue Plan will be targeted at high-poverty schools. Also, the funding will be distributed in a similar manner to Title I of the federal education law which sends money to school districts with more low-income students. The appropriate resources and quality in-person learning can combat gaps in student achievement caused by the pandemic.
Decrease the digital divide. The provision of technological resources such as Internet access and computers will enable schools to better support students during remote learning. U.S. Census figures show that 14% of children ages 3-18 do not have Internet access for remote learning, underscoring the need to provide funding for schools to open. Even when schools reopen, technology and additional classroom resources will be needed to support students who have fallen behind. When the percentage of students without access to the Internet or a computer is disaggregated by race and income-level, it highlights the disproportionate effect of the pandemic on the most disadvantaged groups.
The approval of school funding in the American Rescue Plan is expensive. However, not reopening schools could be even more costly for the U.S. economy and for the development of children. There is a huge economic impact of learning loss and students dropping out of school due to the pandemic. It is estimated that the average K-12 student in the U.S. could lose $61,000 to $82,000 in lifetime earnings.
We must prioritize reopening K-12 schools and providing quality in-person learning for children. Education supports human development and provides the basis for innovation, new businesses, and contributions to the economy. In-person learning supports children’s social development and provides a safe environment for them to grow. If the risks of the virus can be mitigated with school funding for health and safety measures, the reward will be great. The investment in our children’s learning is the best investment in our country’s future.