Schools face a ‘COVID cliff’

If you give two hoots about the quality of education for your children or grandkids, as they say in the biz, this ones for you.

It’s difficult to use the phrase “silver lining” in the same sentence with the term “COVID-19,” but, if there was one, at least on the education front, it would have to be the $3.7 billion avalanche of emergency federal government money that cascaded into every school district in the state.

Suddenly, after years of being unable to provide so-called enrichment services for students, school boards were hiring more social workers, mental health counselors, reading and math tutors, along with more products to sanitize classroom, gyms, and cafeterias from the virus while at the same time installing state-of-the-art ventilation systems to suck the bugs out of the buildings.

Like manna from heaven, those federal dollars were a godsend, but, with every silver lining, there can be negative consequences, and those chickens are fixing to come home to roost.

According to the widely respected Michigan Citizens Research Council, composed of some pretty sharp bean-counters, when the federal manna disintegrates this fall, schools will be facing what they are now calling the “COVID cliff.”

None of the schools can afford to keep those enrichment goodies, leaving the Citizens Research Council folks to forecast that some 5,100 school employees, including those in the classroom, will face layoffs.


While some budget savvy/responsible districts socked some of the money away for a rainy day vs. one-time spending on expensive new services, not every school did that.

“I do think that schools will have to make some reductions,” warns the veteran educator who runs the Michigan Association of School Boards.

Don Wotruba’s members will have some tough budgetary choices to make, and it’s fair to say that the higher quality of education being offered during the COVID-19 pandemic is on the verge of becoming but a fond memory.

Surely, the state Legislature can step in and pump more state bucks into the schools.

Shirley (sp) is wrong.

While it is true that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration has allocated more dollars in recent years and actually reduced the funding gap between well-to-do districts and those not so well-to-do, there is not enough in state coffers to cover the federal largess of $3.7 billion.

Something has got to give, or, as someone put it, “it’s time to sober up.”

When the Citizens Research Council story first came out, it looked like 5,100 teachers would be asked to leave.

“Absolutely not,” reports Wotruba. “I would be shocked if it was even close to that.”

If he is right, that leaves all those other employees staring at the unemployment line. Some of them were hired with the understanding that their gig might not last forever, but, either way, critical services will be lost.

The state is no stranger to struggling school districts. Just think of Kalkaska or River Rouge. But now added to that list: Ann Arbor.

Yes, that Ann Arbor.

Faced with a whopping $25 million gaping and embarrassing hole in its budget, the school board there has warned there will be layoffs, but it so far has not picked the winners and losers.

Those howls you hear are from all those highly educated parents of schoolkids in the system wondering how could that happen … to US, of all people.

Well, as the fall unfolds, those weary souls will have plenty of company, as other school boards figure out how to reconfigure their budgets minus the federal moola.

Brace yourself, boys and girls.

This could get really ugly.


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