Survey finds many parents fear impact on their jobs if schools don't reopen

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

About 56% of Michigan parents say if schools are unable to reopen safely in the fall, it would affect their ability to return to work, according to a statewide survey released Monday by the Tri-County Alliance for Public Education.

School leaders from Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties joined with the Michigan League for Public Policy to release the results of the 600-sample survey conducted May 30-31.

Kids in class at Madison Elementary School.

They also called for federal funding for K-12 schools in Michigan, which face an estimated $2.39 billion revenue drop in the current and next year's state education budgets.

"As the work to fully reopen the economy continues, we must recognize the role our schools play in our ability to do that successfully," said Erik Edoff, superintendent of L'Anse Creuse Public Schools. “School funding has already been stretched thin, yet, in order for my schools to be able to reopen successfully in the fall, extensive new health and safety guidelines will be required to give parents the assurance that it is safe to send their children back into our schools.” 

The data collected by the Glengariff Group Inc. and commissioned by the Tri-County Alliance for Public Education included parent sentiment regarding schools reopening in the fall and concerns over families' ability to make ends meet if schools are unable to reopen.

Forty-four percent of Michigan parents said if school were unable to open in the fall, it would have an impact on their ability to pay their bills.

Gilda Z. Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy, said families are already under significant financial strain due to the COVID-19 crisis and that is likely to worsen if parents aren't comfortable or confident in sending their kids to school.

"Elected officials — especially at the federal level — need to act swiftly to allocate additional funding to support Michigan parents during this unprecedented time, especially when it comes to greater investment in child care and schools that will help parents get back on the job and our economy get back on track,” Jacobs said.  

The survey results also indicated parents expect clear changes in school protocols to meet medical experts’ safety recommendations.

Sixty-seven percent of parents believe it is very important to meet or exceed medical experts’ safety recommendations before classes open in the fall and 71% of parents believed that schools will need additional resources to meet those recommendations.

Mark Greathead, superintendent of Woodhaven-Brownstown School District, said every  new guidelines will have a price tag attached to it.

“Whether it be reduced class sizes that require more space and more teachers, additional bussing routes to accommodate social distancing, sanitization supplies and procedures, or emotional support resources for students, these are all expenses that aren’t in existing school budgets," Greathead said. "We need Lansing to act quickly to accommodate the significant added costs we can expect as a result.”

The group also highlighted the need for the state and federal government to mitigate budget shortfalls.

“We need to see immediate action at a state and federal level in order for schools to plan for a successful reopening in the fall,” Greathead added. “Before any legislator suggests that budget cuts for next year are unavoidable, it is their responsibility to join us in calling on the U.S. Senate to provide immediate relief packages for schools.”

A measure passed last month in the House included aid for K-12 schools but is opposed by leaders of the Republican-controlled Senate.