May 15, 2020 - Health

Coronavirus lockdowns heighten income inequities of school-from-home

Illustration of ruler making a divide sign

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Homeschooling students amid the coronavirus pandemic significantly amplifies economic inequities between households.

Why it matters: States across the U.S. have closed schools for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. And keeping students remote after summer break brews as an option amid public health officials' concerns for a COVID-19 resurgence in the fall and winter.

But, but, but: Household income and a family's employment status can determine whether a student has the resources to learn remotely.

Parental time: Low-income parents are more likely to be essential workers — taking them away from home and limiting the time they have to provide in-person support for their children.

  • Workers earning above $70,000 per year can perform more than 60% of their work from home, while those making less than $40,000 can perform less than 40%, the Economist reports.

School lunches: About half of all U.S. public school students rely on free or subsidized-school meals, per USA Today. Schooling from home limits that offering.

  • Some school districts at the forefront of the crisis set up grab-and-go programs for students and their families to pick up meals. But as cafeteria workers began to test positive for the coronavirus, districts have had to shutter or cut back on their distributions, leaving students even more food insecure.

Campus resources: University students who depend on campus housing or meal plans were largely forced to relocate on minimal notice. Schools have struggled to handle reimbursements — if any.

  • Students have had to find interim housing and meals, which proves difficult for those who come from low incomes.
  • The matter is even more complicated for those who invested their semester budgets up-front and are going on without refunds.

Access to technology: Income also significantly affects access to broadband and data plans, the foundations of keeping up with schoolwork when classes are cancelled. With web-based learning as the new norm, students are dependent on access to the internet and computers to obtain their education.

  • The FCC estimates 21 million Americans lack high-speed internet access at home. Internet hotspots are in-demand, but supply is lagging.
  • Common Sense Media CEO Jim Steyer told Axios that the coronavirus crisis presents an opportunity to close that digital divide by providing devices for all kids, increasing at-home connectivity and ensuring student access to quality content.

The bottom line: High-income and low-income students will not experience remote schooling in the same way, and low-income students will need more support to obtain the level of access vital to their education.

Go deeper: K-12 schools face unprecedented options amid coronavirus pandemic

Go deeper