Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

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Covering the economic impact of school closures

March 18, 2020

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As schools across the United States and around the world temporarily close in response to COVID-19, it could have a number of economic implications, especially in lower-income areas. The New York Times reports that nearly 300 million children worldwide have had their education disrupted. 

Here’s a look at angles to consider in your financial reporting. 

What happens to students’ free meals? 

Students who qualify for free meals at school may go hungry during extended school closures, so some districts are finding ways to continue feeding them. For instance, in Texas, Austin Independent School DistrictFood Services will continue preparing and providing meals for qualifying students, and those meal packs can be picked up by car at certain locations Monday-Friday. How are your local districts handling this issue?

Do teachers and staff still get paid?  

When schools close unexpectedly, it raises questions about who gets paid. Teachers may be transitioning their lessons online, but it could be a different story for facilities workers such as janitors or security guards or those who For schools that remain open, the question becomes whether staff members have adequate sick leave if they’re not able to come into work. Talk to local teachers’ unions and others to see what’s happening in your local districts. 

How will working parents cope? 

More employers are encouraging staff to work from home. Parents who already work from home may have a leg up on their counterparts who suddenly have to adapt to working remotely. But keeping kids entertained while keeping up their own work won’t be easy for anyone. And what about healthcare professionals and others who can’t telecommute? How much more will they need to pay in unexpected child care costs? Are local employers offering additional childcare subsidies or other support to help offset this added cost? Some states like New Mexico are changing child care policies to address this need. 

What about the digital divide? 

Many schools are moving instruction online, but this assumes that the students have access to high-speed internet and a computer at home, which not everyone does. Pew Research found in a 2018 survey that 17 percent of teens aged 13 to 17 often or sometimes struggle to compete homework for this reason. Even families that do have high-speed internet may not have a separate device for every kid. 

EdSource reports on how school districts in California are dealing with this issue. For instance, one district is partnering with local TV stations to deliver educational programming that doesn’t require internet or a computer. For schools that are holding classes online, videoconferencing provider Zoom is offering the software to K-12 schools for free. Are any edtech companies in your area serving this sudden need? How are local schools adapting? 

What about higher education?

The digital divide isn’t just an issue for K-12 schools. While many colleges are shifting classes online, Berea College in Kentucky made the decision to close completely, because not all of its students have reliable internet access. How are your local colleages and universities coping with COVID-19? Have they made accommodations for students who may not have a place to go home to?

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