COVID-19 · Education

Business leaders push Newsom to reopen schools

Business leaders across California urged Gov. Gavin Newsom to reopen public schools immediately. 

The California Business Roundtable – a nonpartisan organization made up of business executives throughout the state – held a briefing with members from various business organizations on Wednesday calling for schools to reopen. 

Their message was clear: School closures are hurting the workforce, and parents should have the choice to send their children back to school safely, regardless of their socio-economic status. 

“We cannot reopen the economy without safely reopening our schools first,” said Lucy Dunn, President and CEO of the Orange County Business Council. 

“Parents should not have to choose between educating their children or reentering the workforce. This is leading already countless working parents having to quit their jobs, not go back to work. Especially working moms who have already had to choose, disproportionately so and affected by this pandemic recession, choosing work over their children is not a good choice.” 

Dunn noted a Stanford study that estimates the COVID-19 learning loss will cost the US economy $14 trillion to $28 trillion. 

“It’s reducing productivity of employees who have to take on home-schooling roles,” Dunn said. “It’s resulting in increased mental health crises and depression in children and adolescents. And it’s resulting in higher dropout rates, widening achievement gaps and unfairly hurting students of color and low-income students. We must find a path to open schools now. It can be done, we just need the political will to act.” 

Edwin Lombard, the President and CEO of the California African American Chamber of Commerce, spoke to the impact that the pandemic has had on Black small business owners, forcing many of them to shut down forever. 

Lombard said the shutdown of schools, coupled with the economic recession because of the pandemic, is continuing to hurt Black families. 

“Now with schools being closed for 11 months, the pandemic is making the hill for Black students and future entrepreneurs even harder to climb,” Lombard said. 

“Research has shown that learning loss due to the school closures is greatest among disadvantaged Black and Latino students. They are at higher risk of not having access to average remote learning, and a study by McKinsey estimates that this will exasperate existing achievement gaps by 10-15 percent. This will cause a higher rate of dropouts in these schools. This learning loss among Black students will translate to an estimated $2,186 per year in wage loss over a 40-year working life.” 

Nick Ortiz, the President and CEO of the Greater Bakersfield Chamber, offered a perspective from the Central Valley. 

Ortiz noted research that places the Central Valley as the region with the highest percentage of essential workers in the country, with the agriculture and energy sectors leading the way in the area. 

“These jobs, these industries are largely incompatible with the virtual telecommuting environment,” Ortiz said. “This means that families have had to make very tough choices surrounding children, child care and education. And for too many in Kern County, quality jobs that create pathways to prosperity are hard to come by, and we know quality education is the key to lifting up disadvantaged communities. The future workforce of Kern County needs the chance at a better life.”

Daniel Gligich
Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.