The COVID-19 pandemic and our collectively flawed public policy response to it have wrought incalculable harm on our nation, state, and communities. One of the top three consequences that we will be feeling for decades to come is the assault on our children’s education. The early indicators are that many of our children have lost a year or more of their educations with marginal kids being impacted the most. It will take many years to recover as this class of kids moves through the rest of their education and many of them will feel the impact well into adulthood. We know the problem. What are we going to do about it?
We have learned a lot about the state of our education system during this pandemic. Many people like to claim that education is a priority. The varied responses to the pandemic revealed who really believes that it is a priority. When the pandemic first emerged with cataclysmic projections a year ago, all schools rightfully sent kids home and scrambled to do the best they could. Within a few months, however, we already knew much more about the virus, the populations at most risk, and how to mitigate the spread. With this knowledge, some schools — particularly private schools, but some government schools — began opening their doors again with hybrid and in-person models. Meanwhile, all schools increased their technological capability to deliver online learning. It is worth noting that we have not seen any significant spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations or deaths from schools that opened for in-person learning. As we look to the end of the 2020-2021 school year and the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, what are we going to do to get kids caught up? Part of the solution is for the state to allow more flexibility for local districts. For example, under the current law, government school are not permitted to open before Sept 1. This is a long-established accommodation to Wisconsin’s summer industries that rely on the young labor force and families continuing the time-honored summer holiday tradition.
Wisconsin should lift this restriction and allow government schools to open early. This impacts private schools too. While private schools can already open any time they choose, their access to constitutionally required school bussing is tied to the schedule of the local government schools. By opening more days for schools to operate, it provides schools with more flexibility for scheduling options to accommodate more students.
Wisconsin could go one step further and enable government schools to move to year-round school too. If education is important to us, then we must treat it as a continual effort and not one relegated to convenient seasons.
With that flexibility must come more accountability. One of the ways we show what is important to us is by where we spend our money. We have seen a great variance in the response by government school districts with some of them utterly abandoning our children. Given what we know about the virus today and the experience with schools that have
been open all year, taxpayers should question whether they should continue to fund schools that remain closed to in-person learning. Teachers are receiving vaccines today and the expectation is that every teacher who wants it will be vaccinated within the next month. There is no rational reason for schools to remain closed.
If we truly care about education, then we must be willing to put our money where our mouths are and defund schools that refuse to teach our children. In the same thought, we must be willing to shift funds to the schools are, and have been, faithfully educating our kids throughout this pandemic. Throwing money into schools that have been failing our kids is not caring about education. Funding failure is an affront to education.
Irrespective of the public policy choices we make, the primary educators of any child remain their parents. Every parent should take a long, hard look at their kids’ school and the education their kids have been receiving. Is it good? Has the school been holding up their end of the bargain in the educational partnership? Have the kids been successful? If not, why not? And if not, why would you continue to send your kids there? Prioritizing education starts at home.
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