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Don't shortchange our students

As legislators across the nation grapple with revenue shortfalls caused by the shutdown and curtailment of businesses in their states because of the coronavirus pandemic, we issue a plea.

Please, do not balance state budgets on the back of education. Other programs can be trimmed or cut entirely. They will be missed. Tax cuts for the ultrawealthy can and must be reversed. But education is the key to our future.

A strong state economy is the product of a strong K-12, community college, technical school and university system.

While legislators may shrug and say they can’t afford to fully fund education, we will argue that they can’t afford not to.

During this pandemic, governors and other political leaders have urged people to stay home and to shut down the businesses that pay local, state and federal taxes. It was little understood how much economic damage this would inflict. We are only starting to see the full impacts.

Nationwide, 33 million people were thrown out of work — more than half of the adult population. That is temporary. The number of unemployed will shrink as COVID-19 continues to subside.

The U.S. House has also promised to help states get back on more solid fiscal footing, an aid package the U.S. Senate must get behind.

In the meantime, we urge all of our elected representatives not to do permanent damage by shortchanging education to solve a temporary problem.

Whether kindergarten or graduate level research, education is an economic driver. Education produces entrepreneurs, business owners, farmers, fishermen, foresters ... the list goes on.

And it produces good citizens who know more than the bare minimums about physics, chemistry, biology, history, language and the many facets of our great civilization.

We support local school boards as being in the best position to weigh the risks of in-person classes. At the same time, we all realize that if we relegate the current generation to online classes for too long and rob them of the richness of a full slate of in-person classes, our economy will suffer. Some students may well thrive with some online classes, but others will tune out and eventually drop out.

Some classes may lend themselves to an online format. Others, not so much. Try learning to weld, raise livestock or repair a tractor online. Try to discuss the mysteries of ancient worlds or the inner workings of DNA on Zoom.

Good luck.

We appreciate that online classes have offered a last-minute substitute for real school and college work.

Make sure high schools, community colleges and universities are adequately funded to safely carry out the classwork and research that are essential to a 21st-century economy. Continue to take scientifically supported actions to drive down the virus caseload, and be ready to loosen or restrict school openings in response to local conditions.

All students in all schools deserve the best possible education, not just for their sake but for the sake of the economy. And it will require more than Zoom.