At the end of last week, Florida TaxWatch (FTW) released “Beyond the Pandemic: Long Term Changes and Challenges for K-12 Education in Florida,” a report and the second installment in the taxpayer research institute’s COVID-19 Legacy Series, which highlights the unprecedented disruptions in learning caused by COVID-19 and the concern for long-term economic and societal risks to students, families, and communities in Florida.
Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic M. Calabro weighed in on the report on Friday.
“There’s no doubt that our children’s educational experiences were impacted over the last year, leading to unfinished learning and some mental health and social development challenges. On the economic front, while studies provide varying forecasts, they suggest these students’ lifetime earnings may be up to $82,000 lower as a result, which would have a combined effect of hundreds of billions in lower GDP nationally over the next two decades if left unaddressed. Moving forward, we must concentrate our efforts on addressing this unfinished learning in the present in order to mitigate economic consequences in the future,” Calabro said.
The report notes that traditional in-person education quickly moved online at the onset of the pandemic, with the U.S. Census Bureau reporting that nearly 80 percent of Florida households with school-aged children were using some form of online learning as early as the spring semester of 2020.
In Florida, this shift to online learning – compounded by an overall decline in children’s mental health – led to lower grade readiness in reading, as well as a pronounced decrease in grade readiness in math. For instance, in Miami-Dade County, the state’s largest school district, officials reported that 43 percent of preschool to third grade students tested were below grade level in reading and about 54 percent were below grade level in math during the fall 2020 semester. These findings parallel national testing data from Curriculum Associates, which showed the percentage of students ready for grade-level work dropped by an average of 4.8 percentage points in reading and 9.1 percentage points in math during the 2020-21 school year.
At the same time, students in low-income communities were especially disadvantaged, due in large part to insufficient internet access. In Broward County, for example, daily attendance at schools in high poverty areas fell by roughly 12 percent, but in high income areas, attendance increased by two percent. Similarly, on a national level, the U.S. Census Bureau found that Black and Hispanic households with students were three to six percentage points less likely than white households to have reliable internet access, worsening attendance and active engagement in online learning.