The Wall Street Journal, July 2020
The start of the new U.S. school year is just around the corner but, with the massive disruptions the Covid-19 pandemic is causing, there is no telling what it will look like. That isn’t only a problem for students and their parents—it is a significant obstacle to the economy’s ability to recover and to its long-run health.
With one of the earliest start dates for schools in the country, the over 45,000 students in Arizona’s Chandler Unified School District in the suburbs southeast of Phoenix should have been back in class this past week. Instead, they won’t start until early next month—and even then, it will start virtually. Arizona has mandated that all classes in the state will be online until at least Aug. 17.
The same uncertainty has beset the over 13,000 school districts nationwide, with many pushing back start dates, planning hybrid models or deciding to go entirely online.
The economic consequences could be severe. There are nearly 60 million prekindergarten, elementary, middle and high-school students in the U.S., and with online instruction a poor substitute for actual time in school, many of their educations risk being diminished. More immediately, school closings are creating a child care crisis that will make it hard for many parents to hold on to their jobs, making it even harder for either the labor market or spending to recover.