August 07, 2020 at 08:09PM
Most Americans do not want to send their children back to school
NEARLY 60M children in America are supposed to return to school in the coming weeks. Nobody knows how many will. President Donald Trump, whose poll numbers are flagging as coronavirus cases surge, has insisted that schools reopen. He has even threatened to withhold funding from those that do not. Many teachers and school administrators, meanwhile, worry that the coronavirus is not yet under control, and that schools lack the resources needed to reopen safely, such as masks, extra classroom space and access to frequent testing. On July 28th the American Federation of Teachers, the country’s second-biggest teachers’ union, authorised its members to strike if their safety demands were not met.
For now, at least, most Americans are uneasy. According to a new poll for The Economist by YouGov, a pollster, just a third of parents with school-age children say they want their children to go back to their classrooms in the autumn. Nearly half want them to stay at home. A sixth are not sure. Perhaps unsurprisingly, opinions are politically tinged: 57% of Republicans want their children back at school, against just 21% of Democrats (see chart). Parents’ educational background influences their views, too: 61% of those with advanced degrees want their offspring in class, compared with only 24% of those without any university degree.
Parents’ fears may persist even after infection rates fall. In the South, where public-health authorities are reporting more than 30 new cases for every 100,000 people per day, less than a quarter of parents want their children to attend school this autumn. But even in places where the epidemic has largely abated, parents remain nervous. In the north-east, new cases have fallen to just 4.7 per 100,000, not much higher than the 3.1 reported in Denmark when schools started reopening there in April. In these states, barely half of parents want their children back in class.
Some parents may be waiting for a vaccine to be found. But YouGov’s polling suggests that, even when a vaccine is available, many will opt out. Less than half of parents say they will get their children inoculated (see right-hand chart). Parents without degrees, or in the South and Midwest, are less likely to want the jab than those in the north-east and West. Republicans are more reluctant than Democrats. Independent voters are more sceptical still. Only one-third say they will have their children inoculated.
Reopening schools safely is difficult and expensive. But keeping children out of classrooms has huge costs. Education is the single biggest force to increase earnings and encourage upward mobility. The more schools stay shut, the more children risk losing the habit of learning. Poor children, especially, risk falling further behind their better-off peers.
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