U.S. public schools are stockpiling masks, hand sanitizer and plexiglass shields, racking up bills that could top $100 billion to protect children who study in actual classrooms this fall or help them learn from home.
The Dallas Independent School District, which is scheduled to open Sept. 8, has already spent $20 million on those items and protective equipment, and estimates a $50 million cost to install home internet for all students so they can log in from home.
Factor in costs such as hazard pay, and its total pandemic-protection tab may surpass $200 million. Michael Hinojosa, superintendent of the fifth-largest urban district, says it’s especially challenging because of conflicting advice from politicians and health experts.
“We deal with people’s two most prized possessions: their money and their kids,” Hinojosa said. “And they expect us to have answers. But when we keep getting mixed messages and different information we have to make different decisions.”
It will cost the average U.S. district an estimated $1.77 million in new disinfecting expenses, cleaning equipment and additional staff to be able to reopen in-person schools, according to the Association of School Business Officials International and the School Superintendents Association.
The extra expense comes to about $490 per pupil. Even if many systems, such as Chicago and Los Angeles go remote, the costs will be staggering, considering that America educates more than 50 million public school children. All told, the American Federation of Teachers estimates that safely opening in the pandemic could cost districts an extra $116.5 billion.