Affluent Families Ditch Public Schools, Widening U.S. Inequality

(Bloomberg) - One is blossoming after moving from public online school to personal private education. The other is fighting, stuck in her virtual classroom.
The lives of these two girls, Ella Pierick and Afiya Harris, epitomize the growing divide in US education as wealthier parents flee public schools.
In Connecticut, enrollment decreased 3%. Colorado saw a similar decline, with the biggest losses in one of its richest counties. Chicago rosters were down 4.1%, the most in 20 years.
Parents with funds instead teach at home; team up with other families to hire teachers in so-called pandemic pods; or register for private schools. Poor and minority children often have no choice but to attend substandard virtual classrooms, and some simply give up altogether.
"The pandemic has exposed so many things," said Amanda Thompson-Rice, a math support specialist in Charlotte-Mecklenburg public schools. "Our wealthy parents have something like pods, they have hired teachers or workers to support their kids for the day. They pay them $ 20 or $ 30 an hour. Black families are just trying to live."
A December study by consultant McKinsey & Co. found that color students in U.S. schools had fallen three to five months behind in math due to the pandemic. white students only stayed a month or three behind. A quarter of children do not have access to a web-enabled device or broadband at home.
A quarter of children do not have access to a web-enabled device or broadband at home
Other disadvantaged groups also fail. At Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia, the number of middle and high school students who received poor grades in at least two grades has nearly doubled to 11% of students. The increase is steeper for children with disabilities and those for whom English is not their mother tongue.
Public schools in the US educate more than 50 million children, so even modest declines in enrollment can account for hundreds of thousands of children. National numbers won't be available for a couple of years and class sizes could rebound after the pandemic. If a significant number does not return or there is a delay, it may affect the school budget, which is based on the previous year's enrollment.
Public schools spent $ 739 billion for the 2016-2017 school year, that's $ 14,000 per student, 90% from local and state funds, and most of it from the federal government. Schools therefore face a potential challenge: spending less on treating students who require more attention because they have fallen behind in virtual classrooms.
"It's very likely that children will return to school and need a lot of enrichment," said Kevin Welner, an education professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "This educational problem meets the issue of school financing."
In the village of Oregon, Wisconsin, near the state capital, Jessica Pierick did what she could to make sure her daughter Ella didn't fall behind in third grade. She and her husband work for a small construction company so they can afford to move from public to nearby Saint Ann School, a Catholic institution that charges US $ 5,000 in tuition annually.
"I really like it there because I get to meet a lot of new people," said Ella.
In the Bronx, New York, 10-year-old Afiya Harris still uses a laptop to sign up for school. Her father is an elevator mechanic. Her mother recently lost her job as an administrative assistant in a law firm. Afiya attends Tag Young Scholars, a magnet school for the gifted and talented in Manhattan's Harlem neighborhood.
Her parents spend nights teaching Afiya and she has recently started meeting a social worker on a weekly basis to resolve her difficulty concentrating amid computer problems.
"I'm having a breakdown because I can't believe I spent so much time discussing this with her," said her mother Rasheedah Harris. "I get emotional because, as I know, most parents cannot schedule that time."
Elsewhere in the Bronx, some students rarely show up. According to Leton Hall, a science teacher at the predominantly Black and Hispanic Pelham Gardens Middle School, 10 out of 25 students don't sign up at all on a typical day. Many who lose connectivity or fail to turn on their cameras due to WiFi issues suggest that they may not be attending. Hall records a video teaching for students who missed the live class but know some grade levels will be lagging behind. More than three quarters of the school’s students are considered economically disadvantaged and 7% are homeless.
"We always have contact with students and parents who are absent, but now it's just different," said Hall. "You can call, but there isn't much you can really do."
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