In the past few weeks, there have been heavy discussions around two topics related to education. The more prominent is the closure of public schools in New York City, and with the recent rise in COVID cases nationwide, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to assume that there will be more cities across the country to follow suit. The second discussion has been regarding student loan forgiveness. This one is based on a suggestion from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, that President-Elect Joe Biden can issue an executive order to cancel student loans up to $50,000. While these two issues seem to only be connected as far as they both relate to education, they are actually very much comparable when you look at who they benefit and who they leave in the dust.
Let’s start with the closure of New York schools. There is no question at this point what the driving force behind the closure is. It’s not a fear of the effect coronavirus may have on teachers and students. It’s not even a fear of spread as more individuals commute to school. It is 100% the control that the teacher’s union in New York City has over the government - a government, by the way, that constantly claims to be following the science. Well, in this case, like in many others, when science is against their position, they are ignoring the science in favor of politics.
The science shows that while the positivity rate in New York City is at 3%, the positivity rate in schools stands at 0.2%, according to the New York Post. The closure exists due to a deal made with the United Federation of Teachers, an organization who seemingly spends most of its effort in fighting for teachers to be able to not teach, wherein a 3% positivity rate within the city would automatically trigger a school closure. Just to show how against teaching the UFT is, just remember this is the same union that fought to keep schools closed throughout COVID, successfully delayed the actual opening of schools by a month, and fought against remote learning as parents would be able to - gasp! - listen in on classes.
Why was the bar set at 3%? Who knows? The rest of the state is set at 5%, and even that number seems arbitrary. These random positivity rates were set back in July when we knew considerably less than we know now about COVID and were just done to placate teachers’ unions. The only answer given by the worst mayor New York has ever seen was, “We’re one of the most densely populated places in the country. We fought so hard to come back from this disease. We’re going to be very cautious to not let there be a resurgence. By setting this 3% goal, we’re sending a message: health and safety first.” This is of course from the same moron who refused to close schools during a sting of blizzards in 2014 because some students relied on schools for their hot lunches. He didn’t seem to care to put health and safety first then. He only cares about it when a union that owns him tells him to care about it.
I had a long discussion on Facebook last week with a few friends as to why New York City didn’t shut the schools down on Wednesday if the positivity rate went up then. Why not just close early and send the kids home? Why wait until the next day if the situation is so dire that schools must be closed? They rightly answered that there are a number of unintended consequences that would arise from sending kids home early, such as the potential for kidnapping. Let me tell you that there are going to be a myriad of unintended consequences for closing the schools for the foreseeable future: lost jobs, child abuse, reduced wages, poor education, and loss of de Blasio’s precious hot lunches - just to start the list. Oh, and sending the children and teachers home, where, according to the CDC, transmission rates are exponentially higher than in schools.
So, to review: Closing the schools hurts teachers, students, and families. It only helps the teachers’ unions maintain their dominance over the New York City government. And the decision is not based in science; it’s entirely based on politics.
Let’s move on to student loan forgiveness. I will never understand how something so obviously broken can be attempted to be remedied with such an obviously wrong solution. The American people have long been aware that college tuition is way too high for the majority of people. That’s why we currently have about 45 million Americans who collectively owe over $1.6 trillion in student loans. We all recognize this as a problem. Yet for some unknown reason, the only solution we have for it is to just cancel the debt?
Let’s apply this logic to another industry, one that doesn’t have to do with loans. Let’s say you want to buy a pen, and every pen you buy lasts about three days and then runs out of ink. Now let’s say this same thing is happening to 45 million other people. Everyone buys a pen and the pen lasts only a few uses. I’m no pen expert, but I would assume that the solution would not be for the government to pay everyone to keep buying poorly-made pens.
Higher education is the only industry where we see a clear problem with the return on investment, and the answer is to keep doing the same thing without changing the product itself. Even when it comes to healthcare, the answer from government includes the effort to get costs down. For some reason, we aren’t concerned that there is an industry out that is supposed to prepare young people for the rest of their lives, yet only straddles them with exceedingly high debt and skills that won’t help them pay it off. College itself is the scam. Yet the solution of a mass government bailout seems to be the only solution. In case you were wondering, that doesn’t help next year’s college students, who will be taking on the same ill-advised loans to get a worthless degree with a liberal arts major from a private university just so they can have the “college experience.”
The actual solution requires a lot more space than I am allotted by the Queens Jewish Link, but suffice it to say that it has a lot more to do with looking into the way colleges are funded, the types of degrees that should be eligible for loans, and the truth that many students who are told that they must go to college would really be much more financially stable if they didn’t go. What won’t be a long-term solution is paying off the debt incurred by college graduates. And it certainly doesn’t make sense to have a third party pay it off. If any entity (other than the students themselves) should be paying off the loans, it’s the universities that promised to ready their customers for life, but clearly didn’t do so.
So, what do these two separate areas of education have in common? One seemingly helps graduates of higher learning, while the other hurts the current students and parents of students in grades K-12. The answer is the broader financial impact. Both of these policies will do more to widen the wage gap than they would to close them.
Who is negatively affected more by closed public schools? Is it the wealthy family that send their kids to private schools, or the upper middle-class family that can afford to take time off from work to be with their kids? Or is it the low-income family that can’t afford a tablet for their three kids to join Zoom school in their house, or the single-parent who now can’t go to his or her two jobs for the next week and a half because the kid is home from school? Who is helped by a repaid student loan? Is it the guy who didn’t go to college because he couldn’t afford it? Or is it the woman with the decent job and some bills left on her plate, or the Starbucks barista who majored in English for some reason?
The answer (as always) is brought back to politics. These policies have two similar accomplishments. Firstly, they widen the gap between the working class and the middle class. Canceling school forces a heavier burden on lower-income families while canceling college debt removes a burden that low-income families just don’t have. Secondly, they target aid to those who support the parties pushing for it. The cancelation of school helps the teachers’ unions (almost exclusively), while canceling college debt helps college graduates, who of late are increasingly Democrat. It’s funny how this idea only started when college grads began to shift to the left. But in contrast to what you might think, policy is rarely about science. It’s always about politics.
Izzo Zwiren is the host of The Jewish Living Podcast, where he and his guests delve into any and all areas of Orthodox Judaism.