How COVID-19 Is Pushing Families out of Public Schools and Putting Public Education at Risk
The following is a guest post from Jessica Calarco, Associate Professor of Sociology, Indiana University
The COVID-19 pandemic is putting public education at risk. It has pushed some families out of public schooling and prompted others to opt out, as well.
As Emily Cox of the Herald-Times reported last week, MCCSC enrollment appears to be down 7% from last year. My own calculations (comparing numbers recently released by MCCSC to last year’s enrollment numbers) suggest that those declines are hitting the younger grades especially hard, with elementary enrollment down 12%.
And MCCSC is not alone. A recent EdWeek survey found that more than half of educators in the U.S. are seeing enrollment declines in their districts' elementary schools, and especially in the lower grades, with nearly half reporting enrollment declines at the middle and high school level, as well.
Some of these missing students have been pushed out of public schooling. When schools opened online this fall, some of these students didn’t have access to internet or a safe, quiet space to learn at home. Some needed more support than their family can provide at home, either because of disabilities, or because they are English language learners, or because their parents are essential workers. Some are staying home alone all day, and some may have siblings to care for, as well. These are the students for whom participating in online learning would be difficult or even impossible. Some of these students—especially if their families have more resources and more connections—have found alternative school options, and some just aren’t learning at all.
Meanwhile, and even if they could participate in online public schooling, other missing students have opted out, instead. Some are being homeschooled by a family member, neighbor, or private tutor. Others in enrolling in online charter schools. And still others have opted to enroll in private schools or other nearby districts where schools opened in-person on time.
These families are opting out for a wide range of reasons. My research with families here in Southern Indiana suggests that some families were dissatisfied with the online instruction their children received last spring, and they are confident that they (or a paid tutor) can better meet their children’s needs. Some families have found it difficult to juggle online school schedules with their work schedules, even if they are working from home, so they found an in-person option or created a homeschool schedule that doesn’t conflict with their own. Still other families have been frustrated by the uncertainty around public schooling plans, so they found an option that would give them a more consistent experience this year.
And of course, it’s understandable why families are opting out. The pandemic is still raging, and the risks of in-person instruction are high. Meanwhile, public schools haven’t been given the money they need to reopen while keeping students, families, and educators safe—with enough teachers and space for small in-person classes, proper ventilation in every classroom, or enough bathrooms to not have to share. Furthermore, online learning is difficult or impossible for many students and families. And educators haven’t been given the time, training, or tech support to smoothly transition online.
The problem, however, is that regardless of why students leave public schooling, the money follows them out. As the Herald-Times reported, a 7% decline in MCCSC enrollment will mean a loss of $5.2 million in funding from the state. And because this year’s enrollment determines funding for next year, MCCSC will lose that money regardless of how many students reenroll. Those funding cuts will almost certainly mean job losses for local teachers and local district staff. They will also mean bigger class sizes and fewer resources and opportunities for the students and families relying on public schools. Students and families who may need those resources the most.
But lost resources aren’t the only problem here. As I argued recently in the New York Times, when families pull their children out of public schooling, those opt-outs “undermine the public’s confidence in the quality of public education and the necessity of funding it as a public good.” Essentially, the more families that opt out of public schooling, the more policymakers will feel justified in defunding public education and shifting school resources to private and for-profit options, instead.
At the same time, however, it’s important not to blame the families who’ve opted out. The real blame belongs to the politicians who’ve refused to take the steps necessary to stop the virus. To the policymakers who, even more despicably, have treated this pandemic as a political and financial opportunity and not as a serious threat. They're the ones who have the most to gain from families opting out. And they're the ones making the situation worse.
We’ll be updating this graphic over the next few weeks as we get closer to the 2020 election.
In 2018, the graphic got pretty long
And the amount spent was pretty massive as well.
Why are we sharing this information?
We are sharing this because the majority of us are not completely aware of how much private money is fueling legislation that impacts public education in Indiana.
And it’s not just Indiana public education. It’s a whole bunch of sectors throughout the United States. Indiana’s public education system is not alone in this attack.
When we elect our representatives—local, state, and national, we citizens need to question: Who do they work for? Who did they take money from? Who is influencing their votes on legislation? Who is influencing the legislation they write?
How we find this information and how you can too
Go to the Campaign Finance page of the Indiana Election Division.
Selection “Contributions” in the left-hand menu.
Enter in a recipient name.
If there are too many results (red message at top), you may need to enter in some contribution date parameters. You can limit it to the past two years, for example.
To find the donors to Hoosiers for Quality Education, we place that name in the “Recipient Committee Name” parameter located near the bottom.
If you are interested to see what big names are donating money to candidates or state-level PACs, you can search the following names in the “contributor” field.
For example, here is a DeVos result, which suggests we should ask the question: Who have Indiana’s past three governors worked for?
And here is a more specific result using “Hoosiers for Quality Education” as the contributor and “Rogers” as the recipient. State Senator Rogers was the author of the controversial “share referendum dollars with charter schools” amendment in 2020 HEA 1065. $51,500 from Hoosiers for Quality Education is a significant amount for a legislator who has only been in office since 2018. See the second image above. You will see she is near the top in terms of campaign amounts received. Again, we should ask the question: Who does Linda Rogers work for?
As we citizens ask questions such as
When you head to the voting booth or complete your ballot by mail, be sure to do your research. Be an educated voter and vote for public education.
Sources: Brendan Fischer, “Former Indiana Superintendent, Lauded by ALEC and Education Privatizers, Cheats on School Grading Formula for Top Donor,” PR Watch, July 30, 2013, https://www.prwatch.org/news/2013/07/12198/former-indiana-superintendent-lauded-alec-and-education-privatizers-cheats-school; Wikipedia.com, Sourcewatch.com, K12.com, accessed September 16, 2020 ; and Eric Weddle, “Indy’s Al Hubbard Bows Out of Consideration for No. 2 U.S. Education, Job,” WFYI.org, June 4, 2017, https://www.wfyi.org/news/articles/indys-al-hubbard-bows-out-of-consideration-for-no-2-us-ed-job.
Indiana Coalition for Public Education–Monroe County (ICPE–Monroe County) advocates for all children to have high quality, equitable, well-funded schools that are subject to democratic oversight by their communities.
We are a nonpartisan and nonprofit group of parents, grandparents, caregivers, teachers, and other community members of Monroe County and surrounding areas.