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The Pandemic Reminds Us of the Value of Public Schools

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The global coronavirus pandemic reminds us of the importance and value of strong, effective public institutions. We are all in this together. “Everyone for himself” is a recipe for disaster. None of us can solve the problems on our own. The only way to address the disease is by collective action and public leadership.

The widespread closure of schools has made parents and communities aware of the crucial importance of these institutions.

Donald Cohen of the nonpartisan “In the Public Interest” asks why school districts were reluctant to close the schools.

He answers:

It’s simple. Public schools are public goods. They provide basic educational, social, emotional, and even physical needs to not only students and families but also entire communities. Closing them has effects that ripple out beyond school doors. As Erica Green wrote in the New York Times, mass school closings could “upend entire cities.”

Just look at the numbers:

The nation’s public school system serves more than 50 million students, many of whom have parents who work and need childcare during the day.

The federal National School Lunch Program serves food to over 30 million kids annually. Many families rely on school to feed their children meals throughout the school year.

There are more than 3.1 million public school teachers, many of whom are already struggling to get by. Teachers, paraprofessionals, front office workers, bus drivers, janitors, and other school staff rely on public school jobs to make ends meet.

But perhaps most importantly, public schools provide kids with the opportunity to learn alongside their peers. Schools are where the community comes together to learn and grow regardless of skin color, income level, sexual orientation, or any other difference.

Only public institutions—not private markets—can make sure that these basic needs are available to everyone.

The next few days, weeks, and months are uncertain, but one thing’s for sure: we’ll be learning how much public schools really matter to all of us. Some—teachers, administrators, and school staff—already know how important they are.

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