School shutdowns cost U.S. economy trillions

By Carole Hornsby Haynes

In reponse to public anger over school closures and the impact on students, Anthony Fauci defensively retorted, “Well, I don’t think it’s forever irreparably damaged anyone.” Yet recent reports indicate the damage is long-term – if not permanent.

The 2022 report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, showed pandemic school shutdowns wiped out decades of academic progress that will reduce lifetime earnings and cost the U.S. economy $28 trillion.

According to the report, mathematics for grades 4 and 8 showed the sharpest drop since math was first tested in 1990. Reading scores for both grades declined to 1992 levels. The learning loss was most severe among disadvantaged students who were forced to learn online from home.

What needs to be addressed is why schools were shut down in the first place and then remained shut down even into 2021 when student COVID infection rates were not found to be a significant problem.

In November 2020, a policy brief by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty reported a study of nearly 200,000 students in 47 states showing little evidence that schools served as superspreaders. Schools throughout Europe reopened, while ours remained shuttered. Even Chinese schools were open. Private schools continued teaching safely, while public school students were forced to stay home.

In his press statement, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona blamed the Trump administration for the school shutdowns: “Today’s data confirm the significant impact the prior administration’s mismanagement of the pandemic has had on our children’s progress and academic well-being.”

Cardona’s statement is refuted by the Wisconsin brief that concluded partisanship and union presence were the main drivers as to whether a school reopened.

  • Districts with a teachers union were more likely to go virtual than districts without a teachers union;
  • Districts with a higher percentage of votes for President Trump in 2016 and 2020 were more likely to open, while those with a higher percentage for Hillary Clinton were more likely to remain shuttered;
  • The per-capita rate of COVID-19 cases in an area was not significantly predictive of whether a school district would reopen or not; and
  • As the percentage of students in a district who are low income increases, so does the likelihood that the district will have chosen virtual education.

Using students as political pawns, teachers union members held sickout strikes in 2020 to prevent schools from opening in various cities. The Chicago teachers union claimed that the reopening of schools was “rooted in sexism, racism, and misogyny.”

A March 2022 interim report by Republicans on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis found that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) allowed the American Federation of Teachers, the second-largest teachers labor union in America, to help write key sections of the 2021 COVID-19 guidelines to determine if and how long schools should be closed and in-class instruction restricted. Key officials of the union backed Democrats in the 2020 elections.

The loss of decades of academic progress because of school closures will cost the nation, states and individuals heavily.

In a study about Philadelphia and surrounding suburb districts, Penn Wharton Budget Model reported that, by March 2021, black students in grades K-5 had incurred a 11.9% loss in lifetime income from school closures while white students had lost 10.4%.

A 2022 report by economists Hanushek and Woessmann, which analyzed NAEP eighth-grade math scores, estimated the economic impact on states. Hanushek found that “eighth-grade math fell for every state, with a national average decline of eight NAEP scale score points. … This was enough to erase all of the gains that had occurred since 2000.”

Using the 8-point loss in math achievement during the pandemic, Hanushek wrote, “The evidence on the labor market value of skills implies that the average student during the pandemic will have 5.6% lower lifetime earnings” – a loss he estimated to be $70,000.

A state’s economic loss is affected by their students’ scores and size of the state’s economy. Utah, with a 2.7 point student loss, will fare better than Oklahoma and Delaware, with a loss of 12 points each. With its large economy, California will face the greatest shortfall – $1.3trillion – while the large economies of Texas, New York and Florida will face present value losses in excess of $500 billion.

A 2020 report by Hanushek and Woessmann evaluated the economic impact of remote learning on G20 nations. The report notes that learning losses extend beyond lower incomes. A less skilled work force also implies lower rates of national economic growth. The economists projected a 1.5% lower GDP throughout the remainder of the century – more if schools are unable to return to pre-2019 levels. Because of the extended period of school closures, the U.S. faces a staggering economic loss of $28 trillion over the century.

This recent loss of academic achievement is piled on top of what has already occured in our public schools. Once Americans were the most literate in the world. By 2019 the U.S. had gone “from being the world’s best-educated workforce to the least well-educated in the industrial world,” with 36 million Americans unable to read well enough to work. Not only is illiteracy devastating to personal lives but to our society as a whole. Illiteracy is costing our national economy $2.2 trillion each and every year – that’s 10% of our gross domestic product. Add this to the $28 trillion loss from long term-public school closures and the future is clear – America is in very, very deep trouble.

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