Another unintended consequence of COVID-19 response: Distance learning is costing families

Legislation that I recently voted for, and that the governor signed into law last week, gives school districts the flexibility to make more and better health and safety decisions amid the coronavirus that will enable students to learn and achieve in the coming school year, whether in school, at home, or both. The plan also provides schools financial stability by mainly using last year’s pupil count to determine this year’s funding levels.

In most cases, most of our students will begin their new school year at home, learning through the computer. Providing students with a safe, quality education is one of the most important things we can do, and that is best achieved when local education leaders are empowered to make learning decisions that best serve their communities. But, while this increased flexibility is necessary today because of COVID-19, at what cost to our families is all of this coming?

Families in Macomb County and throughout our state and nation are facing the very tough decision determining which parent is going to quit his or her job to stay home and facilitate their children’s online education. I personally know families who have already made this decision and sympathize with everyone who faces it, because the fact of the matter is there are serious short- and long-term consequences to quitting a job or reducing work hours to stay at home to help educate children while their schools are physically closed.

Perhaps the most immediate impact will be figuring out how to cover the cost of utilities and other monthly bills, like mortgages, insurance and credit cards. Though that is tough enough on its own, the long-term consequences are perhaps even more daunting.

Teresa Ghilarducci is an economics professor at The New School for Social Research, labor economist and nationally recognized expert in retirement security. The professor recently made the case that quitting your job — even for a year — to facilitate kids’ education at home could be a costly mistake. Apart from losing out on a salary, people leaving the workforce also lose out on any retirement savings, social security benefits and insurance coverage while they aren’t working. There is also the stigma of being out of work and the difficulty one can experience finding a new job if and when the time comes to do so, especially in the current volatile economy.

Ghilarducci points out that, when all things are considered, it is likely more expensive to quit working than it would be to hire babysitters or tutors for the kids when they can’t attend school in person. I would recommend talking to a professional financial advisor to discuss what is best for your family.

The residual effects of these individual decisions may have broader societal implications. In terms of the economy, as people leave the workforce, businesses may shrink or close, the housing market may constrict, and the increasing loss of revenue may force governments to reduce or cut vital services. From a human development perspective, the social aspects of not being with peers in school or at work could also be problematic.

This is an unprecedented period in our lifetimes. In many ways, we are all flying blind, trying to figure how best to adapt our lives to COVID-19 without ruining everything in the wake of those decisions. I worry we may be winning the battle but losing the war.

Sen. Peter J. Lucido, R-Shelby Township, represents Michigan’s 8th Senate District and serves as caucus whip.