Could coronavirus cancellations mean schools are heading toward a summer session?

Plus, how COVID-19 affects local school finances, proms and graduations are being canceled, how to use LEGO to explain the virus and more.

March 31, 2020

Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing about journalism and coronavirus, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.

Kids and maybe teachers won’t like this. One idea floating around to make up some of the lost learning time caused by COVID-19 is to open summer schools.

Two other options include opening the fall semester earlier than normal and parents holding their kids back from moving on to the next grade.

The American Federation of Teachers union reminds us that kids have been in school for seven months, which means most of the school year, so it isn’t time to panic.

But as schools start following the lead of states like Kansas and making the decision to shut down for the rest of the academic year, it is hard to imagine that children, particularly those who are already struggling, won’t lose a lot of what they learned if they are not in a classroom from March until late August.

Douglas Harris, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, estimated that a month and a half of summer school nationwide would cost $8.1 billion.

Here is a collection of reporting from The Arizona Republic, The Cincinnati Enquirer, and (Rochester, New York) Democrat and Chronicle about the options being considered around the country.

Depending on where you are, such a decision could be made locally or come from the state government.

How COVID-19 affects local school finances

School systems generally get money from three income streams: state governments, local property taxes and sales taxes. Some also get money from lotteries.

In Kentucky, for example, where teachers had been promised pay raises, the governor says there might now not be enough money. The $2,000 pay raise was the state’s hope to recruit teachers. Next door, in Tennessee, the governor’s new budget cuts teacher raises in half.

VTDigger dove into Vermont’s education funding as an example of what will happen nationwide. One third of Vermont’s education fund comes from sales tax, food and room taxes and the state lottery. The best guess right now is that fund will run at least $35 million short because of COVID-19. The state also delayed tax filing deadlines, which means when it is time to write school systems their April checks, Vermont will be drawing out of reserves.

EdSource.org said that the coronavirus federal relief bill that Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed last week includes $31 billion nationwide in assistance for K-12 and higher education and more than $4 billion for childcare and Head Start. But national teacher unions said schools will need $75 billion and will likely be pressing for another bailout bill.

EdSource breaks down the federal relief funding this way:

$13.5 billion for K-12, with $12 billion distributed to school districts based primarily numbers of low-income students qualifying for federal Title I aid, and $1.3 billion for governors to distribute for emergency assistance. States would get considerable discretion to use the money to mitigate the impact from the pandemic; they also could fund internet connectivity and computers for distance learning.

$3 billion for governors to spend on K-12 or higher ed in those areas hit hardest by the coronavirus.

EdWeek reported what teachers and schools will be pressing for next:

The Senate is on a scheduled recess until April 20, so it will be several weeks before Congress could consider and pass another round of coronavirus aid to send to the president.

Education groups are already looking ahead to a next round of legislation in Washington. A March 25 letter to senators from AASA, the School Superintendents Association, called on lawmakers in a future coronavirus “to ensure states do not use federal dollars to backfill cuts in state funding; and to ensure any future education technology funds flow through the already existing federal technology program for schools.”

There’s also a sense that more funding could be needed for programs addressing students’ welfare, such as child nutrition.

Show us your prom dresses

We all feel so bad for the young folks who will miss their proms and graduations. The Buffalo News got creative and featured some young women in the dresses they already bought but may never get to wear to prom.

The story also includes the voices of student athletes who are coming to realize that their athletic careers may be over. Here is a passage that touched me:

For some seniors, the possible end to high school sports is hard to deal with. That’s the case for Jack Bird. The City Honors senior, the first student from Buffalo Public Schools to commit to a Division I scholarship in lacrosse, will attend UMass Lowell in the fall. But he aspired to make the All-Western New York lacrosse team this spring.

“Every day I’ve been practicing in hopes of having a really good senior season,” Jack said. “I wanted to prove what Buffalo lacrosse is all about. We get overlooked a lot.”

There is a lot of opportunity for journalists of all platforms to give these students visibility.

It could be a “show us your prom dress” gallery.

It could be highlight reels and images of seniors who we will not get to watch finish their senior years.

How could you give valedictorians a way to deliver their graduation speeches if there is no graduation ceremony?

How to use LEGO to explain COVID-19

Connor James at WYMT-TV in Hazard, Kentucky, used LEGO to explain social-distancing and exponential spread. Sometimes simplistic and low budget explainers are the most effective.

TV and radio stations help restaurants and food banks

WRAL-TV in Raleigh, North Carolina, is one of the most creative stations I know. They showed why I say such things with their special coverage of local restaurants. They gathered their coverage of restaurants in one database — and keep in mind these are not necessarily advertisers, they are just local businesses.

The station, along with its co-owned radio stations, raised a quarter of a million dollars to help out-of-work restaurant employees.

In Illinois, stations across the state are raising money to fill foodbanks.

The homeless need help

An order to stay at home doesn’t mean much when you have no home.

Advocates for the homeless in California are raising money to install handwashing stations at homeless camps.

How we work

My friends in radio, TV and multimedia have learned the skill of using a “boom mic.” Not many have audio tech like this these days, but this was common a couple of decades ago for network folks.

The single best “boom pole” I have seen was a Minnesota reporter who duct-taped a microphone to a hockey stick. Hey, in a pinch, it’s all good.

We’ll be back tomorrow with a new edition of Covering COVID-19. Sign up here to get it delivered right to your inbox.

Al Tompkins is senior faculty at Poynter. He can be reached at atompkins@poynter.org or on Twitter, @atompkins.

Correction: This article originally misquoted VTDigger as saying that two-thirds of Vermont’s education fund comes from sales tax, food and room taxes and the state lottery. It is actually one third. We apologize for the error.