Unless Florida’s leaders show extraordinary resolve, the impacts of a pandemic on public education in the state of Florida are likely to be grim.

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The youngest victims of the coronavirus might not have a cough, or a fever. But the effects could be lifelong — affecting their chances of success in school and in life for a long time to come.


And unless Florida’s leaders show extraordinary resolve, the impacts of a pandemic on public education in the state of Florida are likely to be grim.


Start with the reality that many students were ill-equipped for distance learning. Some students weren’t tech-savvy enough to take full advantage of virtual lessons and online conferences. Some didn’t have parents who would, or could, ride herd on their online learning activities. And some children just aren’t suited for the kind of learning that takes place outside a classroom, with no teacher to dispense smiles or head-shakes and no classmates to compete or collaborate with.


The governor’s task force on re-opening Florida’s economy proceeded with the assumption that schools will be ready for in-person learning by August. Even so, some children won’t recover quickly; one study, by the Northwest Evaluation Association, projects that younger students might lose up to 30 percent of their annual reading progress and half — perhaps all — of their annual math progress, the New York Times reported. Some may need to be held back — or ascend to a grade level they may not be prepared for.


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That’s just from the few months of disruption in mid-2020, for many Panhandle students this is a repeat of 2018-19 school year when Hurricane Michael struck a major blow to schools.


It’s a cruel irony that the 2020 budget was regarded as a major step back into the black for Florida schools, which often scraped through each budget year with funding increases that amounted to a few dollars or even pennies per student. Keeping that momentum going will be difficult, but Gov. Ron DeSantis should push lawmakers hard to fund schools, recognizing that many students will need more resources, not fewer.


A heavy burden will fall on Florida’s teachers. They will be asked to make further sacrifices as the school year progresses.


The next hurdle will be standardized testing, one of the best ways to compare year-to-year progress and measure student achievement. Testing has been badly abused in Florida — used to take money from struggling schools — but its merits for calculating learning gains and adherence to standards were always valuable. There will be no testing this year — if it returns next year, what can those results be compared to?


The picture isn’t all bleak. Some students took to technological learning with a gusto that surprised even themselves, setting the stage for a lifetime of independent thought and answer-seeking. Some parents learned to never again take a quality education for granted.


Getting public schools back on track will be a tough task, one that requires all parties — politicians, parents, teachers’ unions and school administrators — to agree on one straightforward principle: The children’s needs come first.


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