There are many, many important questions swirling about the potential of going back to school this fall, and most of them are about something more important than money. People’s safety is obviously first and foremost. The livelihood of millions of educators and school employees also matters, as does the education provided by America’s public schools. A generation of children who miss a year of school — or attend in circumstances that prevent them from learning — could see long-term consequences for their lives and careers.
But, just because people’s safety matters more doesn’t mean you can simply ignore the money question. The simple fact is that in order for there to be any chance of a safe return to classrooms — be it for kindergarteners or college students — it’s going to cost a lot of money.
How much money, exactly? Here’s a look at some of the additional costs schools across the country are bracing themselves for should school go ahead as planned.
Last updated: July 28, 2020
$33: Per Student Cost of Health Supplies for Reopening Schools
Even the basics will cost if/when schools reopen. The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) and the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO) have estimated that just the cost of things like sanitizer, wipes, thermometers and other materials needed for that first line of defense would run around $33 per student — or over $1.5 billion nationwide.
$10,440: Average Tuition and Fees for Public 4-Year College, 2019-20 School Year
Rising tuition costs mean prospective college students have every reason to want answers on just how effective remote learning will be. With the college board citing the average cost of tuition and fees at over $10,000, the idea of taking a gap year might be a lot more appealing to many students right now.
$26,000: Cost To Deep Clean a School
The need to deep clean surfaces is inherent to being able to bring kids back to school without serious concerns that they would be getting the virus from surfaces, but that’s an extremely pricey proposition. With the ASBO estimating that it will take about $26,000 for each cleaning, some schools could see each new case of the virus putting them in serious financial straits.
$49,653: Harvard’s Tuition This Fall – Despite 100% Remote Instruction
Harvard’s decision not to offer any sort of discount on this year’s tuition in spite of it canceling in-person courses for health concerns is a hard pill to swallow, for many. Though, some would argue that if the university offers more targeted aid to its neediest students, it could ultimately be more effective.
$50,051: Cost To Provide Hand Sanitizer for Average School District
Herds of kids have always presented a challenge to sanitation, with common colds and other illnesses presenting serious enough issues in a normal year. The severity of this outbreak, though, would mean reopening schools would necessitate major steps to help kill germs before they spread.
$168,750: Cost for Average School District To Resume Before- or After-School Care
For working parents, after-school care is often an absolute necessity — the only lifeline making life possible for their family, in some cases. But ensuring that these services start back up along with classes means another huge investment from school districts to make it happen — nearly $170,000 for the average school, per the ASBO.
$192,605: Cost for Average School District To Provide Masks for Staff/Students
As much as districts would like to be able to count on every family having already secured the necessary face masks for their family, there’s no guarantee that every student and staff member will already have one. The cost for an average school district to be able to ensure that every member of its staff and student body will have their face covered during school hours? Nearly $200,000.
$309,000: Cost of Reusable Masks for All Students, Faculty, Staff and Visitors — University of Central Florida
An article in the Wall Street Journal in late June used the efforts of several colleges — including the University of Central Florida — to show just how enormous the challenge facing college campuses is right now. One incredible factoid? It would cost over $300,000 to provide all the reusable masks necessary for the students, faculty, staff and visitors at UCF.
$448,000: Cost To Hire Additional Custodial Staff in Average School District
Vigilance by existing staff can only go so far, and most school districts will likely be looking to bring on more custodial staff to deal with the extra work they will need to take on throughout the school year if they reopen. Per the ASBO, that could add nearly $450,000 in costs to the budget of the average school district.
$500,000: Cost To Upgrade Ventilation Systems With UV Lighting — University of Central Florida
Another detail from that Wall Street Journal article about the University of Central Florida? An effort to install UV lights in ventilation systems to kill bacteria in recirculating air came at a cost of a half-million dollars.
$1.65 Million: Amount Set Aside for Mass Testing — Chapman University
The $8.3 million that Orange, California’s Chapman University has budgeted for its entire anti-coronavirus effort includes a line item of a whopping $1.65 million just to pay for mass testing.
$1.78 Million: Cost To Reopen Average School District
The ABSO estimated what it would cost for the average school district — which is roughly 3,659 students, eight school buildings, 183 classrooms and 329 staff members — to reopen, and the results weren’t pretty. Given that the average district will clear $1.78 million just to reopen, larger districts in more densely packed areas might see that number go even higher just to secure a similar level of safety.
$31 Million: Potential Lost Ticket Revenue From Sporting Events — Clemson University
College sports are big business, and their role in helping pay for the rest of a university’s activities can be underestimated in good times. Clemson University in South Carolina, for instance, is currently looking at losing more than $30 million in revenue if live sporting events are canceled.
$50 Million: How Much Purdue University Set Aside for Coronavirus-Related Costs
Purdue is a Big Ten university with a massive student body that’s typical of those schools, but that also means it’s looking at a massive price tag to ensure all of those young adults can learn safely. The Indiana university is looking at some $50 million just to offer courses this fall.
$50 Million: How Much Rutgers University Refunded for Campus Services Amid Pandemic
Rutgers is one of the most recent additions to the Big Ten, but its 70,000-plus student body makes it positively enormous. That’s translated to a $50 million price tag to refund students for the campus services they’ve missed out on during the pandemic.
$76 Million: State Funding Cut for Public Colleges and Universities in Ohio for 2020
At precisely the time when public institutions are in dire need of cash injections and financial support, Ohio’s taken the opposite approach by slashing budgets. The state slashed 3.8% for the fiscal year that ended on June 30, translating to over $75 million that public schools the state over will have to do without.
$150 Million: Lost Revenue for Georgia’s Public Colleges and Universities Due to Canceled Summer Programs
While the focus right now appears to largely be on this fall, the interruptions to summer programs could have some public school systems feeling the squeeze. Just through the summer, Georgia’s public school system is out some $150 million from canceled programs.
$375 Million: Current Projected Net Loss for Johns Hopkins University in 2021
Here’s hoping a $375 million shortfall won’t put legendary medical school Johns Hopkins on life support. That’s how much the university expects to be in the red for the 2021 fiscal year, barring major changes.
$3.8 Billion: Cost To Provide Online Learning Supplies for Poorest 15% of K-12 students
While families living in homes that already have a computer — or a few — might see online learning as a compromise they can deal with, lower-income families without mobile devices and/or accessible computers will need those resources provided to them. All told, the Learning Policy Institute estimates it will take nearly $4 billion to secure the necessary materials for online learning to the poorest 15% of students.
$7.6 Billion: Cost To Hire Additional School Counselors Nationwide
Of course, when physical health is directly threatened, it can be easy to overlook the importance of mental health. Children are likely dealing with significant traumas as they navigate the crisis — just like anyone else — and low-income public school students might rely on counselors as one of their only options for care. But as important as it is, it’s also quite costly — with an estimated $7.6 billion needed to cover the cost of hiring the necessary personnel.
$9.6 Billion: Expected Increase in Transportation-Related Education Costs Nationwide
Getting children to and from school presents additional challenges when there’s a significant risk of the coronavirus spreading. In fact, just preparing the nation’s school bus fleet (or finding alternatives) is projected to cost nearly $10 billion, nationwide.
$13 Billion: COVID-19 Relief Issued To Schools
While it’s not seen as being anywhere near what’s necessary, schools aren’t wholly without additional resources to take on the virus. Some $13 billion was earmarked for them in the stimulus package passed earlier this year.
$27 Billion: Amount HEROES Act Would Give States for Funding Higher Education
The wrangling in Washington over just how to respond to the crisis continues, with differing opinions on how large another stimulus should be and where it should focus. Democrats in the House passed the HEROES Act in mid-May that included $27 billion in support for states to fund their higher education systems, but Senate Republicans declared it “dead on arrival.”
$35 Billion: Cost of Increasing Instructional Staff To Implement Social Distancing in Schools
For anyone who’s worked with a lot of children, the phrase “herding cats” might sound like a wonderfully organized and ordered respite from their daily life. As such, enforcing social distancing guidelines throughout an entire school will undoubtedly require a lot of additional staff.
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$41 Billion: Size of Harvard’s Endowment
If you already think it’s outrageous that Harvard isn’t offering its students discounts, add to that the university’s massive endowment. With over $40 billion in investments, Harvard could easily offer deep discounts on tuition without seriously hindering its financial standing.
$45 Billion: Projected Lost Revenue From Tuition, Housing and Associated Fees in Next Term
It’s not just the enormous costs facing schools, for universities it’s also the fact that there will be a lot less money coming in. Losing $45 billion from one side of the ledger only puts the squeeze on the other side that much more.
$74 Billion: Estimate of Cost To Prepare For Fall Reopenings
And the other side of the ledger is not pretty at all. Even while there’s $45 billion less in revenue coming in from tuition, housing and fees, the total price tag on reopening this fall is estimated at nearly $75 billion by the American Council on Education.
$90 Billion: Amount Set Aside for Education by the HEROES Act
The grand total set aside for education in the HEROES Act is some $90 billion, enough to cover that $74 billion with enough left over to throw another $16 billion at other school levels. However, Senate Republicans unveiled their own bill, the HEALS Act, on July 27 — it offers $105 billion for education, with $70 billion targeted to K-12 schools. Until something is finalized though, the money is all hypothetical.
$116.5 Billion: Estimate of Total Cost To Reopen Schools Nationwide
Of course, $16 billion for all public schools below the college level would seem to be about $100 billion short of what’s necessary. Even the $90 billion House Democrats have already passed would still be over $25 billion short of what’s needed.
$130 Billion: Cost To Reopen Schools Nationwide, Assuming a 20% Increase in Costs
That $116.5 billion price tag doesn’t completely reflect the reality, though, as costs will likely run higher. Including a 20% increase to cover various coronavirus-related issues runs the total figure for reopening schools this fall to an eye-popping $130 billion.
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