Guest column: In-person learning abandon in state’s largest districts - Albuquerque Journal

Guest column: In-person learning abandon in state’s largest districts

Recently, the Santa Fe and Rio Rancho school districts joined Albuquerque and Las Cruces schools in abandoning in-person learning, at least until Jan.19.

Instead, all learning in New Mexico’s largest school districts will be done online. The odds seem very good that this situation will continue into 2021 and possibly through the end of the school year.

While Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham tells us her anti-COVID efforts are based “on the science,” leading health bodies like the CDC have recommended in-person learning.

“Research has shown that if you put social-distancing protocols in place, school is actually quite a safe environment,” Andreas Schleicher, who studies schools for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris, told NPR.

Closing schools and switching entirely to remote learning has big social costs. Children are learning less, and many parents, mostly mothers, have dropped out of the labor force.

The U.S. is suffering from these problems and a raging pandemic.

The upshot is that increasing numbers of parents have few choices when it comes to educating their children. That is, unless they can pay for and get their child enrolled in one of the religious or private schools around New Mexico that have been providing in-person learning throughout the school year (despite occupancy restrictions imposed by the governor).

The governor and the union-dominated political power structure of the state have been opposed to helping parents and families as they face dire challenges in educating their children thanks to the pandemic and the shutdown of in-person teaching. Earlier this year New Mexico sued the Trump administration to stop any CARES Act funding from being directed to non-public schools.

Other states have found creative ways to help families impacted by the shutdown of in-person learning in many school districts.

  • Oklahoma is providing $30 million from the CARES Act to support families impacted by the virus-induced shutdowns.
  • Idaho has created a $50 million program using CARES Act dollars to spend on eligible educational materials, devices and services. Parents can apply for benefits totaling $1,500 per eligible student and a maximum award of $3,500 per family.
  • Texas used $30 million to help special-needs students. Families of some students with disabilities may be eligible for $1,500 per child to use toward services including tutoring, therapy and digital resources.

But, in New Mexico, the options for most children are really limited:

  • Students, often young ones without typing and computer skills, engage in virtual learning, sometimes without great Internet access;
  • Families spend scarce resources on private schools while continuing to pay taxes for government schools; or
  • Families withdraw students from government schools and have one or more family members dedicated to educating children at home

These are not great options for many New Mexico families. Returning to in-person learning is the best available option.

It would also be great if New Mexico came up with something similar to what happened in neighboring states, at least as a start to helping families deal with the consequences of the ever-shifting educational playing field. Alas, New Mexico didn’t get to 50th in education by making good decisions.

(Paul Gessing is president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, nonpartisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility.)

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