With an estimated three million students in the US disengaged from school, the road to recovery for our schools will be a long one.  CIS President and CEO Rey Saldaña and Shaquille O’Neal share from personal experience why ensuring equity in education will take more than reopening buildings.

An estimated three million students in the U.S. have gone “missing” during the pandemic — not from home, but from virtual school. They are no longer attending classes and are most likely falling behind. Even after the pandemic ends, many may never go back.

We are devastated by that number. Not just as parents and as advocates for the nation’s children, but as two people who grew up with family struggles and the difficulties brought on by economic instability. If the pandemic had happened at an earlier time in our lives, we or someone we know could have been one of those millions of kids.

For many low-income students, inequitable learning conditions are not new — but they have been exacerbated by the pandemic. It’s no surprise, then, that these same students are experiencing learning loss and chronic absenteeism at higher rates than their peers during the COVID-19 crisis. We can’t let that continue.

The solution is to provide whole-child supports that meet students’ needs outside the classroom: access to food, health care, after-school programs, counseling, and housing and job referrals for parents. These essential services successfully get children in economically strapped families back to learning, and our nation’s leaders must prioritize funding them so that no student is missing from school.