Keep in mind that the numbers, though staggering in their own right, were reported before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered schools and upended the economy. We can only guess, of course, the extent to which the pandemic will impact those numbers, but it is clear that many of the aforementioned challenges have become exponentially harder to address, especially for those living and leading in under-resourced communities.
Some in the workforce have transitioned to working remotely and are able to shelter in place; however, many have lost their jobs or had to close their businesses. Children and families are facing food and housing insecurities and other life stresses.
Similarly, while some school districts have been able to pivot relatively quickly and produce online curriculum, offer virtual classes, and deploy buses to distribute lunches into the community or serve as mobile hot spots, many, especially rural districts or those without a lot of resources and support have not. They simply did not have access to the resources they needed. Even in the midst of such glaring inequities, how we should tackle the problems isn’t always so clear.
The Georgia Partnership recognizes we are in unprecedented times, but we also recognize that an unprecedented opportunity is before us. Knowing that even before the current crisis, Georgia was facing potentially 1.5 million unemployable people, we can’t afford to “get back to normal.”
Instead, we must go forward boldly with an unwavering conviction that leaders from the capitol to the classroom can create a “new normal,” one that strives to level the playing field and provide fair and equitable opportunity for all Georgians. That means that policymakers must continue working to ensure all students are educated to a high standard and that all schools have the resources to do so, targeting more resources to students who come to school with greater disadvantages.
Leaders must also commit to supporting the expansion of Georgia’s technological infrastructure, especially in rural communities, so that digital learning opportunities are more readily available to all public-school students, not just those who can afford it. Lastly, community and regional leaders must assess their local assets and build partnerships that support students inside the classroom and beyond.
There is no doubt that the educational attainment of a state's population — its workforce — is critical to supporting its economic development goals. Leaders across all education agencies, early learning through post-secondary, and workforce development entities must devise a coordinated plan to combat decades of poverty, undereducation, and dependence on low-skilled jobs.
We must blaze new paths of educational accessibility and economic opportunity for all students and adults. People in the future will be affected long-term by the choices we make today and are counting on us to do the right thing. So, we must lead with a focus on the present while stewarding our assets with a mind toward the future.