As with all of our systems, Covid-19 will have a major impact on our educational systems. Everything from preschool through our graduate schools are going to undergo changes.
At first people just think about how they are going to maintain physical distancing and change everything from transportation to classrooms. But, that is only the tip of the iceberg. The big impact is going to be on funding. Many things will cost more but at the same time our local and state governments will have less revenue to pay for the new costs. Revenue from income and property taxes will all be reduced due to the impacts of the pandemic.
Considering that most school systems were already underfunded and undergoing revenue stress it is really going to be a lot worse now. How will the schools respond? Will they increase online teaching? That will work in some cases and the current efforts at doing that will help clarify what works or doesn’t work. Will online teaching enable them to consider laying off teachers, reducing their fleets of buses, closing dorms and dining rooms and housing to cut costs? It could, but what about all of those people who would lose their jobs and their incomes? What about sports? Will children now grow up without learning how to work as teams and relying on others? What are the costs associated with that?
Dealing with all of these questions will not be simple. For example, what if a local school system or university decides to expand online teaching and then reduces the number of required teachers, bus drivers, infrastructure, etc.? That translates into more people without incomes and less taxes for the school system due to increased unemployment. It becomes a spiraling down of the whole economic system and will require other savings that will also have additional deteriorating impacts on the economy. Taking it to the extreme, if you go down that rabbit hole you end up with a smaller population all living in self subsistence mode on farms with at-home teaching, or not.
What is the answer or solution? I don’t know, but I do know that dealing with the problems will require a very careful weighing of all of the potential unintended longer consequences. We all need to think our way through our recovery and consider solutions at large or we could end up making it worse. Recovery will not be simple or quick. It is going to take many years in dealing with interlocking systems of systems and the best talent we have to manage it.