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Op-ed Placement

Public Schools Are Fine With Reopening—If They Can Charge More

Originally Published in The Patriot Post on 8/24/20.

After deciding to go online this fall, counties in Virginia and Maryland soon created in-person child care programs as a solution for working parents — but only if they can afford it.

The Supporting Return to School Program (SRS) in Fairfax County, Virginia, promises hands-on support for virtual learning and boasts a “warm and welcoming environment.” Howard County, Maryland, is doing something similar with RecZone, a program in which students will be able to “enjoy crafts, physical activities, and games” throughout the week.

Both programs come at a cost. Though the exact price of Fairfax’s program is undisclosed online, the RecZone program costs $325 for a full week and $259 for shortened hours.

The thought of public schools charging additional fees for education is ridiculous, but it’s happening. Though these programs are marketed as child care programs, they sound an awful lot like your typical school day. Learning, themed activities, the company of peers, the promise of “social and emotional development” — the only thing missing is a certified teacher.

So despite all their talk of the necessity of closing, it seems that public schools are actually fine with reopening — as long as they can turn a profit.

Worsening the situation is the fact that the people behind these programs believe them to be fair: “The SRS program reflects Fairfax County’s and Fairfax County Public School’s joint commitment to … ensuring that all families have equitable access to the services they need to support children’s virtual learning.”

But because they cost money, only children whose parents have the luxury to pay can enjoy the benefits of the programs. Children from lower-income families, who have less disposable income and typically rely on the normal school day to address child care needs, are more likely to be left behind. And because “space is limited” in these programs, even families who can afford them might not be able to secure spots for their children.

How’s that for equity?

The introduction of these for-profit child care programs is nothing more than a deplorable attempt to distract from the real issues at hand. It is a tactic taken straight out of the Democrats’ playbook: If you can’t address the underlying issues, cover them up. Do something that looks good now even if it causes more headaches in the long run. Don’t worry about handling taxpayer money responsibly.

Parents can’t afford to leave the well-being of our children in the hands of such careless bureaucrats. We know enough now about how to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and we need to seriously consider how school closures will negatively impact children for years to come. School officials must figure out how to bring all kids safely back to school — not just a select few.

Faith in our public schools was already waning before the pandemic hit. And with the way school boards are handling the crisis, I’d be surprised if there is any faith left by year’s end. Public school enrollment is down, while private school enrollment is up. More and more families seem intent on homeschooling or on “pod learning” — the free market at work. Parents, let this be a lesson: Don’t leave your child’s education in the hands of politicians and public school boards. Once again, they’ve proven that they couldn’t care less about learning. What they really care about is money and power.

The tax dollars are already there. Either use them to create more accessible day care programs or reopen schools. Don’t force parents to pay extra in order to give kids the sense of normalcy they deserve this school year.

Parissa Sedghi is an Executive Vice President at FreedomWorks.