Want Schools to Open? Get Serious About Outbreaks
“You can go to a tattoo parlor in Georgia, but in much of the state you can’t send your children to school at the start of the fall semester. Nine Georgia school districts have announced that they will begin the school year with remote learning. Some 584,000 youngsters, or one-third of Georgia’s public-school students, have to stay home. So will their peers in many states.
Some states prioritized the opening of bars and tattoo parlors over the need to control Covid-19 in time for the start of the school year. In many places, local officials aren’t opening up schools because transmission is so intense. The country’s political leadership at all levels failed to carry out plans to manage the epidemic that would allow society to preserve what is most important.
In many states, the spread is limited enough that schools should open, even though some may not because parents and teachers don’t want to return until a vaccine removes the threat of an outbreak. But parents and local school leaders have understandable concerns about opening classrooms in places where the virus’s spread is uncontrolled. Schools and local government should try to address these concerns. The social and educational costs of keeping children out of the classroom is enormous. Lost learning can translate into fewer opportunities and lower incomes later in life.
Economists estimate that an additional year of schooling increases earnings by about 9%. If students learned little this spring and won’t learn much in the fall, their future earnings will take a hit. For a worker who graduated high school but didn’t attend college, our rough calculation suggests earnings will drop by more than $30,000 a decade if schools don’t reopen in the fall.”
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