We used to think of campaign finance as a Rube Goldberg machine in which lobbyists and just folks gave money to a candidate, let’s say for the U.S. Senate, to fund a run for office because he would deliver on tax breaks for business or make sure your cultural enemies don’t go too far, and then the money was bundled and spent on advertising, some of which solicited more contributions, and the bulk of all that went to buy TV airtime for commercials, the most expensive commodity, and ended, ironically or not, in the pockets of broadcast licensees.
We wonder if there isn’t something like that going on now, as the federal government disburses trillions of dollars in grants, aid, insurance and just $1,200 in your pocket no questions asked, with possibly trillions more on the near horizon, quintupling the federal budget. We think we can see where it goes in the near term, but where does it come to rest and in whose pockets besides shareholders in Zoom Video Communications, which went public a year ago at $36 a share and closed last week at $128?
In just one U.S. city, Chicago, the school district is planning to distribute at least 100,000 devices such as laptops, Chromebooks and iPads next week for students to use at home. The cost will eventually will run into the tens of millions of dollars in one city where, according to The Chicago Sun-Times, officials expect delays in purchasing computers “as districts across the country go after the same resources.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot praised Chicago Public Schools for their work to ensure that “while our schools remain closed, education in Chicago remains open.”
We assume the schools will reopen there and elsewhere across the country no later than for the next school year, in September – that is, that they will just as soon as it is safe, but apparently not everyone is thinking along the same lines.
Education is a great and growing expense for every state, a hobbyhorse for teachers unions and a nightmare for fiscal conservatives seeking accountability. Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a conservative Republican elected two years ago, partnered with Florida last week to create an Alaska Statewide Virtual School – which came as a surprise to Alaska teachers, principals and superintendents, who are busy with their own separate efforts to expand online learning during the pandemic. It looks as though the Alaska Statewide Virtual School will operate for at least a year.
“Sometimes we get hung up on buildings in schooling and less so on educational outcomes,” Dunleavy said last year. “I think there’s a tremendous opportunity within (Alaska’s) budget discussion to look at ways in which we can educate kids, not necessarily in just a building.” There would also be a tremendous fiscal opportunity for this budget-cutting governor, even a chance to show that, with far fewer schools and teachers and the expense of them, education in Alaska is open.
On the pro side of this ledger there is a world of savings on the cost of education; and some private contractors for online learning, who lobby just like practically every other business, could also make out like bandits. On the con side and on the whole, learning done exclusively online will probably be worse than classroom instruction; the question is, how much worse for how much savings?
Many districts in many states may soon find that having taken the first steps into virtual education out of necessity, it will be harder to go back to the way it was done before without answering some difficult questions.