Jimmy’s Colorado Politics Column | Don’t reward shuttered schools

Written by on October 19, 2020

I’ll be blunt: School districts are failing their students by pursuing remote learning.  Voters should not approve a single tax or bond measure requested by a school district that is not opened for in-person learning or is threatening to go back to full-remote.

Unfortunately, districts like Cherry Creek and Aurora are preparing parents for the prospect that all schools may return to 100% remote learning.  Meanwhile, district after district pleads with voters for yet another tax increase and bond measure.  They claim they are necessary because of the pandemic.  They argue teachers may have their pay frozen, and some may lose their jobs. 

I have written about my support for our public schools and public schoolteachers, boosting teacher pay and reducing administrative bloat (both numbers and salaries).  I am a public-school advocate.  But public schools exist for students, not teachers or staff.  No matter what Peyton Manning says, voters should categorically reject these measures. 

First, there is no reason to think school districts wouldn’t make the same request even without coronavirus, largely due to preexisting financial woes due to poor budgeting, bloated administration and an unwillingness to make needed cuts.  Such tax and bond requests seem to come every election.

Even more importantly, by openly considering an end to in-person learning, districts reveal an intent to underserve their students.  Why should school districts get more money through tax or bond measures when they are on the verge of failing their students?  Financial challenges don’t justify throwing more money at a terrible decision. 

As I argued in July, the evidence is overwhelming that “remote learning is a catastrophe” and incomparable to in-person learning, especially for young children.  During the summer, research nonprofit NWEA said that, as a result of remote learning in the Spring, “students (were) likely to return in fall 2020 with approximately 63-68% of the learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year and with 37-50% of the learning gains in math.”  Other studies bear this out and demonstrate that school closures unduly hit low-income students of color

We know students, especially young kids, miss out on developing key social skills, better nutrition and exercise, and teachers are less able to identify learning deficiencies, abuse at home and other issues. Additionally, by forcing students to remain home, you hurt working parents, hampering our economy and disproportionately harming lower-income communities.

Given the abundance of incontrovertible datapoints, how are school districts doing their job when their students are losing out?  (They aren’t.)  Why should they get a penny more if they’re not going to do their jobs?  (They shouldn’t.)

If a school district is disserving kids by underserving them, it is failing them.  Period.

If districts want to blame Gov. Polis, Mayor Hancock, Tri-County Health, etc., for forcing their hands, don’t buy it. School districts have great influence in urging politicians and unelected public health bureaucrats to abide by the data.

Coronavirus cases are up in Colorado, but COVID-19 hospitalizations remain at 5% of capacity, and neither science nor data backs shutting down schools or the idea that they are “super-spreaders.”  Last week, findings were released from the COVID-19 School Response Dashboard, produced by economist Emily Oster, Qualtrics and the National Association of School Superintendents and Principles, among others.

After reviewing data on almost 200,000 students in 47 states in the last two weeks of September, they find that infection rates in U.S. schools were 0.13% for students and 0.22% for staff, or 1.3 cases for every 1,000 students and 2.2 cases for every 1,000 staff.  The dashboard observes school COVID-19 infection rates track with, but are somewhat lower than, community rates.

According to Oster, “The evidence suggests that we should expect more cases to show up in schools in areas where cases are higher in the community.  On the other hand, the school rates here are low even in places with high community rates.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci agrees, telling CBS News last week, “For the most part, there has not been an indication that children are massively spreading the virus in community.” 

Anyone who advocates mass school closures literally denies science and data.  When students’ long-term educational achievement and mental health are at risk, shouldn’t we follow the science?

While I oppose a tax increase regardless, I’ve voted to approve bond measures in the past.  Unless a school district pledges to keep their schools open, expand in-person learning and adequately serve students, its bond measures should categorically not stand, either.

Click here to read Jimmy’s October 19 column at Colorado Politics, a sister publication of The Washington Examiner.

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