Mar 25, 2021 - Politics

Former Bush official argues that Iowa schools were right to reopen early

Illustration of a report card that says "reopening," and shows an "A" written in red marker, circled by a coronavirus particle.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Iowa students will be better off academically and health-wise compared to schools that are still partially shut down, argues John Bailey, former deputy policy director at the Commerce Department under George W. Bush.

Why it matters: Schools nationwide will have to grapple with learning losses next fall, but Bailey contends it won't feel as severe for states that opened earlier.

Driving the news: The CDC released two studies this month showing little virus transmission occurs in schools, as long as mitigation efforts like masks and proper hygiene are in place.

  • Bailey also presented a report to Congress in March, urging schools to reopen.

The big picture: The academic, financial and mental consequences from closing schools have concerned families and school officials nationwide.

  • Experts fear students may miss key academic milestones, falling behind grade level and in some cases dropping out of the educational system altogether.
  • And parents are worried about loss of income if they're unable to work due to school closures, especially families of color.

The argument: States that returned to school earlier possibly slowed these losses by providing infrastructure like child care, counselors and social services.

  • Women exiting the workforce is a COVID consequence, but one study shows narrower gender-disparity in labor participation for states that opened earlier, per Bailey.
  • "Where were we as a country have got it wrong is we didn't adjust our strategies to reflect the growing body of research," Bailey said.

The other side: It's too early to tell what the long-term implications are education- or health-wise for schools that chose to reopen early, said Annette Anderson, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Safe and Healthy Schools.

The bottom line: Families need to weigh for themselves the health vs. education costs.

  • None of this is one-size fits all.

This story first appeared in the Axios Des Moines newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.


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