Gov. Mike DeWine is trying to get Ohio students back in the classroom by March and he plans to give adults who work in classroom settings priority access to scarce doses of the coronavirus vaccine to bring that about.
Doing so will provide a substantial benefit to the Ohio economy both over the short and the long term, a panel of economists surveyed on the issue said.
The governor has usually couched his reasoning in terms of child education and development; that Ohio children are losing something vital every day that the coronavirus keeps them home.
The survey of the Ohio Economic Experts Panel published last week by Scioto Analysis asked whether panelists agreed that “Ohio’s economy will receive a substantial boost as soon as K-12 schools can be safely opened in person statewide.” Nineteen of 32 Ohio economists agreed, although some had reasons beyond child development for doing so.
Economist Vinnie Gajjala of Tiffin University argued getting students back in school will imbue them with skills to get better jobs and contribute more to the overall economy later in life.
“Schools remaining closed would reduce the lifetime earnings of the children thus lowering (gross domestic product) in the long term,” he said in the comment section of the survey. “Zoom (is) not (a) perfect substitute for in-person classes.”
For several of the other panelists, getting students back in school will boost the economy by allowing their parents to go back to work instead of staying at home caring for their kids.
“Until schools reopen, there is a limit on how many individuals can go back to work,” said University of Cincinnati economist Michael Jones. “With schools closed, the natural rate of unemployment is higher.”
Bill Costeas of Cleveland State University said the household burden of having kids not physically going to school can be a heavy one.
“Remote K-12 education is a major burden on many households, reducing labor supply as one parent (more often the mother) devotes more time to childcare/assisting with schooling,” he said.
However, the underlying damage that coronavirus has done to the economy might dampen some of the benefits of getting kids back in school.
“Many parents would be available for outside jobs if they no longer had to baby-sit and home-school their children,” Michael Myler University of Mount Union said. “But that does not mean that an outside job is available for them.”
Yet another economist said the direct, immediate economic benefit from reopening Ohio schools — and the additional public spending that would entail — would be almost imperceptible.
“It will be a tiny boost, but impossible to measure change in the rest of the economy from such a tiny increase in spending,” Jonathan Andreas of Bluffton University wrote. “It is good, not ‘as soon as’ it happens, but because it should boost long-run productivity, the main purpose of education.”