The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a statement strongly urging that schools adopt proper safety procedures and re-open. The doctors argue:
With the above [safety] principles in mind, the AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school. The importance of in person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020.
Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation.
This, in turn, places children and adolescents at considerable risk of morbidity and, in some cases, mortality. Beyond the educational impact and social impact of school closures, there has been substantial impact on food security and physical activity for children and families.
In addition to the simple argument that schools actually matter, many working parents need the kids to go back to school so that they can go back to work.
However, before parents begin preparing to send the kids to school, they should know there is a likely catch. It’s the usual catch in American education: the unions.
As Manhattan Institute Fellow Daniel DiSalvo notes in this morning’s Wall Street Journal, the unions “emboldened by successful strikes in 2018 and 2019, may attempt to keep the economy hostage.” The unions are not motivated simply by health concerns.
There is a financial incentive to drive a hard bargain: spiking expenses of unfunded pensions. Di Salvo explains:
The NEA’s and AFT’s safety concerns are reasonable. But looming behind the debate is a coming spike in the cost of unfunded pension obligations. A one-two punch of increased pension costs and recession-dented revenues may influence whether some schools reopen.
Unless Washington provides more education funding, the pension tab will force states and school districts to slash spending that reaches the classroom. That will drive the teachers unions to oppose reopening schools—while claiming the moral high ground of student safety.
The reopening of public schools poses an economic conundrum: If the schools aren’t open, many parents will lack child care and be unable to return to work. If parents can’t work, the economy can’t recover. Teachers unions are thus in a position to hold the economy hostage.
The problem is that pension costs are assured to increase, even as revenue plunges. In the first quarter of this year, public pensions lost up to $1 trillion in market value. Teacher pension plans were in bad shape even before state and local tax revenues collapsed due to the economic shutdown.
Unfunded pensions take about 14.4 per cent out of the education budget before any of it gets to the classroom. Unless the unions can negotiate for more lavish education budgets, schools may say they can’t reopen. Di Salvo suggests:
To address these challenges, policy makers will need parents on their side. Parents are fed up with remote learning. Superintendents, school boards and elected officials can win them over if it becomes clear that teachers are refusing to return to the classroom over issues of pay and benefits.
A reopening strategy will need the flexibility to establish staggered class times, temperature taking, physical distancing, intense cleaning of buildings, and wearing protective gear, among other measures.
Once schools are ready to reopen, elected officials can drive a harder bargain with teachers unions. The steep drop in pension funding should spur state legislators to condition aid on moving toward defined-contribution plans for new teachers. Pension plans that fall below 50% funding are unlikely to recover. There’s no sense in throwing good money after bad.
Meanwhile, Reason’s always interesting Robby Soave has a fascinating article suggesting that U. S. schools should follow the European example and open the schools. Some studies indicate that closing the schools was not necessary:
This is hardly surprising, given that closing the schools in the first place does not appear to have been a sound strategy for containing the coronavirus. Studies in JAMA Pediatrics and The Lancet have found ample reason to doubt whether school closures saved a significant number of lives. As Mother Jones‘ Kevin Drum pointed out in a review of the scientific literature, closures “have (a) little effect and (b) are probably nowhere near worth the tremendous impact they have on both parents and kids.”
That’s an important point: Reducing the amount of time that children spend at school is terribly burdensome for many parents who rely on school’s day care effect. Keep in mind that public schools are funded through taxes.
But of course we did close schools down and now (as in other segments of the economy) there are those with a vested interest in keeping them shut down