Former Gov. Jeb Bush says Florida can’t fully rebound from the novel coronavirus outbreak until schools are able to open safely.
Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Florida was closing schools in mid-March. Those closures were originally slated to last through mid-April but were then extended for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.
In late April, DeSantis announced he was allowing a phased reopening of the state, which began Monday.
The plan has several restrictions, and Bush argues those limitations likely can’t be fully dropped until schools reopen.
“You can’t open the economy if children are at home,” Bush said Tuesday. “There’s no possible way. Most families have to have kids in school if they’re going to be able to go to work.”
Speaking with Axios on the effect of the outbreak on education and job readiness going forward, Bush also lamented that many school districts were not ready to transition to a remote learning atmosphere prior to the outbreak.
“The virus will come back,” Bush said. “We should be far ahead of the game than we are today.”
He argued a plan should be developed to guide schools nationwide through the process should social distancing restrictions extend into the 2020-21 school year.
“The 13,000-plus school districts have huge technology budgets, but we don’t have a national strategy,” Bush said.
“And what’s become pretty clear with the COVID-19 pandemic is that the access to education — when you can’t get to the classroom — is limited or nonexistent for some and works for others. It seems to me we should have a national strategy.”
“Every student was learning online,” Bush said. “They trained for it. They created a strategy around it. And I think kids will be better off in Miami because of that.”
Districts that struggled with the transition may cause students to lag. Bush argued the federal government needs to account for that in developing future relief bills.
“There needs to be a focus on using some of the money that’s going to be coming from the federal government to deal with the losses of learning that have taken place,” Bush said.
“That could be through summer school. That could be through a more targeted, accelerated approach when school starts in the fall.”
The former Governor and 2016 presidential candidate also said the outbreak is an opportunity to adjust standard education going forward. Bush said changes should be made — such as standard access to distance learning and more focus on students’ situations at home — which will allow more high school graduates to be college- or workforce-ready immediately upon leaving high school.
“We have the tragedy of high school graduation rates going up, but we have a ton of eighth-grade level readers that won’t be able to go to college or they’ll have to take remedial reading and math to be able to start,” Bush argued.
“So this is the time to really think differently.”