“We are concerned about budgetary impacts of the current pandemic on our educators.”
The new school year is upon us, but that’s hardly clear in every municipality given the lack of detailed reopening plans from individual districts, such as Boston Public Schools.
Boston, like many neighboring cities and towns, pushed its opening day back to late September, but still left many teachers in the dark about what that will look like. Will it be entirely remote? Will Boston adopt the state-recommended hybrid model, where students divide time between classrooms and home, depending on the day of the week?
Last month, Boston Teachers Union President Jessica Tang posted her concerns on Facebook, calling for all-remote learning. Among the potential pitfalls she noted, many of the Hub’s dilapidated school buildings lack proper ventilation and could seemingly be hotbeds for the spread of COVID-19.
There are also budgetary icebergs on the horizon—more than usual. Resources that might otherwise go to classrooms will be spent on online learning tech, providing laptops to students in need and securing essential software. All this as the danger of depleted municipal funding looms, with record unemployment inevitably impacting the city’s tax coffers.
“We are concerned about budgetary impacts of the current pandemic on our educators,” Tang wrote in a statement to DigBoston. “The federal government has failed to provide the funds that are needed to keep our schools and communities safe, but we are working diligently with the district to make sure BPS students, families, and educators are protected as much as possible from further economic distress.”
Private schools are also feeling the crunch. With increased unemployment, fewer families can afford to keep their children in alternative and elite institutions.
Thomas Carroll, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Boston Archdiocese, sounded alarms in a recent Zoom talk hosted by the Center for Education Reform, where he forecasted that about 10% of Catholic schools in Mass will shutter permanently due to declining attendance.
On the public side of things, BPS Director of Communications Xavier Andrews said the district doesn’t expect a dramatic increase in enrollment, noting that BPS typically waits until October to announce official numbers.
In his spiel, Carroll, a school privatization apostle now crusading in Mass, complained that there was not enough federal stimulus funding going toward private schools. Boohoo, but what’s worth checking out is how much money is (potentially) going to supplement the expansion of online learning education tools, such as those offered by the company Florida Virtual Schools (FLVS).
The Mass Department of Elementary and Secondary Education approved FLVS to provide online modules for one-off classes in grades K-8. The program allows the company to collect $250-$350 per student per class, depending on how many families opt in for online-exclusive instruction outside of the basic weekly school schedule.
Thus far, it appears that only a small number of families are expected to enroll in FLVS classes; a spokesperson from Somerville Public Schools, which are offering the extracurricular option, said they only expect about six students to take part in the 2020-2021 school year.
While states and municipalities brace for the economic impact of the pandemic, 2020 has been a profitable year for online education providers like FLVS.
US Secretary of Education Betsy Devos called for stimulus funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act to be directed to for-profit and private educators—businesses that were prepared to answer that call. While a separate attempt to pump private schools full of federal coronavirus funds was ruled illegal by a US District Court judge last week—the ruling said the secretary violated the CARES Act by instructing public schools to send more assistance to private school students than is required under federal law—the door remains wide open for tangential programs.
For FLVS, which was immaculately conceived in 1997 by the Florida state legislature as an online alternative to public schools, the current money grab is outside of the Sunshine State. Since COVID-19 struck, the company has signed numerous exclusive contracts across the country, including multimillion-dollar deals with cities in Tennessee and a contract with the state of Alaska.
“Some of our districts may have used us before COVID for a small school, maybe a couple thousand students,” FLVS Senior Director of Partner Services Courtney Calfee told the Dig. “Now, the trends we’re seeing are with districts that need to use our curriculum with the entire district.”
FLVS has seen about a 420% increase in sales outside of the state of Florida compared to this same time last year, according to a company spokesperson.
“I do think it has been the compelling event that has disrupted education,” Calfee said. “I want students to be able to go back into the classrooms, but I’ve always believed in choice. Now with COVID, teachers, families, and parents are demanding good quality online content.”
Zack is a veteran reporter. He writes for DigBoston and VICE, and formerly reported for the Boston Courant and Bulletin Newspapers.