Sudden Shift To Remote Learning Leaves Some Illinois Parents With Few Options, Big Bills

ILLINOIS — Many public school districts in Illinois, including the state’s largest, quickly shifted from offering some in-person learning options for students to offering only remote learning at the start of the school year.

The change in plans sent many working parents rushing to find either a place for their kids to go while they work or to find a caregiver they could pay to supervise remote learning at home. Either option could end up costing parents thousands of dollars.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has offered guidance for schools to provide in-person learning. Many rural and some suburban districts plan to do so, but many other schools, including Chicago Public Schools and districts in the collar counties, announced they would not be offering any type of in-person option for the start of the school year.

The Chicago Teachers’ Union opposed in-person learning for safety reasons and threatened to strike over the decision to provide some sort of in-person learning option.

ABC7 Chicago’s Michelle Gallardo asked Pritzker if he would require schools to offer an option for parents facing financial hardships or loss of employment because of child care needs.

“It’s challenging if schools are not open for parents to find a place to put their child during the day if they work,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to work with local governments and local county officials on expanding.”

When Gallardo pressed the governor on whether he would require schools to offer an in-person option, Pritzker said: “no, because if you cannot provide in-person learning safely, then we should not be requiring it.”

A new study released Thursday from BankRate found 3 out of 5 parents nationwide said remote learning will negatively impact their finances, with more than a third saying they would have to either reduce their hours at work or quit altogether.

“These findings suggest the economic recovery will continue to be slow,” said Ted Rossman, industry analyst at Bankrate. “Most students will be learning remotely this fall, and that alone will strain more than half of their parents’ household budgets.”

Some private schools are offering in-person instruction this fall, but the rush to secure spots and the cost of private school put that option out of reach for many families.

“Parents are scrambling,” said Christy McGlothlin, founder of Home Rule Inc., a home child care company that recently expanded to offer services nationwide amidst the pandemic.

“They’re having to limit their working hours. They’re having to call out of work. There are parents that are losing their jobs.”

McGlothlin said her service offers competitive prices to other childcare companies but still admits an entire year of in-home childcare can cost thousands of dollars.

On Thursday, Pritzker’s office announced $270 million to childcare providers through the Business Interruption Grant Program. The money will go to providers but does not appear to order any expanded program savings for parents in a bind over virtual learning.

Jeanne Ives, a former state lawmaker and Republican candidate for Congress, has called for property tax credits for parents to help cover the cost.

In Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey ordered schools to provide an in-person model upon request, which brought criticism from teachers and unions.

In California, strict requirements from Gov. Gavin Newsom have forced parents to form “pandemic pods,” or groups of families that split the cost of private in-person education. According to a CNBC report, some estimates of expenses for in-person teaching in California average $50 an hour with more costs per student.

Florida teachers’ unions are suing local districts to keep them from offering in-person learning.

In Illinois, most students will be learning remotely when school starts, according to results from an Illinois State Board of Education survey.

A survey of the state’s more than 850 school districts by the Illinois State Board of Education found most of the districts (319) plan to offer a blended model. Those districts serve more than 525,000 students. About 200 districts serving 153,000 students will be starting the year with in-person instruction. About 150 districts serving about 921,000 students will offer only remote instruction.

Some of those plans could change as districts get closer to their start date.

The Center Square – Cole Lauterbach

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