Education in a COVID-19 Era

Education in a COVID-19 Era

Education in a COVID-19 Era


by Sam Gaby

As we continue to hear, COVID-19 has changed the education landscape for millions of families across Georgia. Parents have helped their children around the country complete an unprecedented 2019-20 school year, ending with unanticipated virtual schooling. One thing is for certain: this fall will look different than school years of the past. There will be some kids in traditional brick-and-mortar schools, some participating in virtual learning, and others changing their learning styles completely. One of the greatest takeaways of the COVID-19 pandemic – it further revealed a weakness in a “one-size-fits-all” approach to education. 


As someone who was homeschooled from  K-12th grade, the transition to virtual college lectures and tests was not a struggle for me. With the flexibility that comes with this schooling choice, I easily managed my schedule and the new freedoms that came with college. I credit my success so far in college to the choice to learn differently. I would not have thrived in public school, so my parents gave me the opportunity to learn in a home environment with additional tools and resources. 


Homeschooling is not the right option for all children, nor is it right for all family dynamics. Some lower-income families may not have the resources to support a homeschool education or any other education style other than public school. However, the point still stands: everyone learns differently and needs to have the option and financial support to choose the right learning environment for success. Public schools, private schools, online learning, charter schools, and homeschooling should be options for everyone – no matter their circumstances.  

As schools begin to open up, we should be asking ourselves whether or not individual public schools are ready to take on the challenge of hybrid learning. Some counties in Georgia are giving parents a choice in online or in-person learning. The school systems need to be incredibly prepared to handle both forms of learning at the same time. 


Last spring, there was a sense of chaos as schools frantically tried to transition to virtual learning. Some schools were not able to resume teaching for several weeks or longer. Has the summer break been enough time to adequately prepare schools to handle the mass technological implementations and resources needed to provide millions of students with a quality education? Will parents around the country start to reconsider their options in schooling? Will more, supportive school choice initiatives such as Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) or the Georgia Tax Credit Scholarship Program begin to emerge? Only time will tell, but my hope is that this “COVID-19 Era” brings forth a broader conversation on the importance of options in education.

Sam Gaby is serving as a summer intern for Georgia Center for Opportunity. 



A quality education is key to a child’s future success. Academic achievement paves the way to a good job, self-sufficiency, and the earned success we all want for our children. To learn more about education options in Georgia click here

Children excited as they leave school

Help! Should I Choose Virtual School for My Child?

Help! Should I Choose Virtual School for My Child?

Help! Should I Choose Virtual School for My Child?

We’re all familiar with the phrase “uncertain times.” We find ourselves there as a nation, as parents, as people. We’re watching history actively develop in 2020 and we don’t know what the fast-approaching school year will bring. As the government puts out its recommendations for education and local school districts develop plans for re-opening schools, many families are trying to decide what to do. 

Should I send my child back to their regular school? Should I choose the virtual option from my local school district? Should I enroll my student in a full-time virtual school outside of my school district? There are so many options!


There is also much debate. Looking at social media for any amount of time will give you all the pros and cons of sending your child to school based on medical evidence, opinions and growing concerns of the unknown, so we won’t rehash that here. However, if your child or someone in your family is immune compromised, the virtual option is a fantastic choice to avoid exposure to germs. But for others, the choice isn’t so easy.


I’ve been an educator since 2002 and have worked in a full virtual school for the past seven years. Virtual education is new but not “new.” We’ve been refining the craft for over a decade now in Georgia, so let’s address the question of “should I choose the virtual school option for my child?” from the considerations of what virtual schooling offers and what is required. Looking at it pragmatically might help you make your choice.


First off, understand that virtual school doesn’t mean “homeschool.” Traditionally, homeschooling means that families choose their own curriculum, set their own schedules, and develop their own methods for learning. Virtual schooling provides accredited curriculum, certified, highly trained teachers, and expectations that mirror most public schools. This means that if your school district is offering a virtual option or you enroll your child in a public charter virtual school, you will have to meet all the same requirements as if your child was in a brick-and-mortar school, including attendance, adherence to school policies, and state testing requirements.


What virtual schools can provide (among other things):

  • High quality teachers
  •  Access to all the classes your child needs to stay on track
  • Supportive staff including administrators and counselors
  • Some clubs and after school virtual activities
  • Occasional in-person activities for students (outside of pandemic times)


What virtual schools cannot provide:

  • Access to free meals
  • Athletics or performing arts
  • Before or after school childcare
  • Daily in-person socialization


If your child has special needs requirements or has an IEP, don’t write off the virtual school option. Public virtual schools will be able to meet those requirements and give your student the support they need. Also, many public virtual schools offer courses for gifted students, and at the secondary level, can provide AP courses and access to dual enrollment. 


Here are a few things that are required for virtual students to be successful:

      • Access to reliable internet.
      • A computer or learning device (many schools will provide these).
      • A calm learning space away from as many distractions as possible.
      • A schedule for learning that can be maintained on weekdays (with few exceptions). Keep in mind that virtual schooling does not mean flexibility to decide when your student does their work. They will have a schedule to adhere to.
      • For you as the parent to be involved also as the learning coach.
      • Patience. While some virtual schools have been doing this for a while, not all virtual teachers will be veterans. Patience is key as we all learn how to live in these “uncertain times” while providing your child with a high-quality education.


If you’re still struggling to decide what to do, research the virtual options in your area. Make sure you look for accredited schools with certified teachers. You are your child’s best advocate and the only one who can make the best choice for your student and your family. Contact your local school district or virtual school in your state with questions!


Jennifer K. Hale is an Assistant Principal at Georgia Cyber Academy High School. She is passionate about student success through high quality teaching and best practices. Originally a history teacher, she is also passionate about helping students to become active, knowledgeable citizens of our nation.





A quality education is key to a child’s future success. Academic achievement paves the way to a good job, self-sufficiency, and the earned success we all want for our children. To learn more about education options in Georgia click here

Children excited as they leave school

Safeguarding the Economy is Paramount for Everyone’s Well-Being

Safeguarding the Economy is Paramount for Everyone’s Well-Being

Safeguarding the Economy is Paramount for Everyone’s Well-Being

By Erik Randolph

Recent numbers in confirmed COVID-19 cases have been nothing but discouraging, but is it logical to turn back? The resurgence in confirmed cases may tempt our political leadership to reimpose shelter-in-place mandates and business shutdowns, but at this stage it would be a mistake.

The Resurgence 

The recent data may be giving credence to those medical experts who have been arguing the lockdowns only delayed the inevitable. We must learn from the mistakes made and the impact the shutdowns have had on already heavily-impacted communities.

The official confirmed cases displayed on the Georgia Department of Health’s COVID-19 Daily Status Report webpage lags 14 days behind. Beyond that 14-day window at the time of this writing, the seven-day moving average of confirmed cases peaked at 763.1 on April 22 and began to decline. However, the average began rising again on May 10, and since May 25 the average has been steadily increasing. On June 24, the average reached nearly 2,000 cases, more than double its prior peak in April. There is good news on the Department’s webpage, reported deaths have been on a downward trajectory since the end of April. However, there is still much we do not know, including the unreported number of Georgians who successfully cleared the virus asymptomatically or otherwise.

Comparison to Other States

Compared to other states, Georgia does not look that bad. For example, deaths attributed to COVID-19 are far fewer in Georgia than in the Northeast. 

On the economic front, Georgia’s shelter-in-place orders were far less severe than in other states, such as Michigan, Massachusetts, and Washington State. Recent unemployment numbers suggest a possible negative correlation between the more harsh measures taken by states and employment. Georgia looks good with an unemployment rate better than 72 percent of all states. In some cases, Georgia’s unemployment rate is drastically better. Georgia’s rate is 36.4 percent of Michigan’s rate and less than half of Massachusetts’s rate.



The Economic Situation Overall is Not Good

When Congress first passed legislation addressing the pandemic, the discussion was shutting and locking down for 14 days that might extend to a month’s time. Recall the talk about a “V” shaped recession with the economy quickly rebounding? With the crisis dragging into its fourth month, this is no longer the discussion.

In my last blog, I argued that the official unemployment rates understate the seriousness of the unemployment problem. While Georgia’s rate measured 9.7 percent, I estimated that the real problem was closer to 25 percent . This was just one metric. There are plenty of other metrics indicating potential for some serious economic damage.

First, the economic impact is not shared equally. Some industries—such as restaurants, bars, tourism, live entertainment, and brick-and-mortar retail stores—have been hit especially hard. Many of these businesses are smaller, mom-and-pop operations with lesser capacity to withstand long periods of economic hardship. Workers, too, have been unevenly impacted, with lower income households bearing the brunt of the negative impact.

It’s also been bad financially. About 3,600 companies filed for bankruptcy in 2020 thus far, 26% higher than the first six months in 2019. Cash reserves is a major issue. A Federal Reserve Banks’ survey found that three in 10 small businesses were financially at risk or distressed at the beginning of the pandemic. 

We do not yet know the total loss in production due to our response to the coronavirus, but we know it will be bad. Production dropped 5 percent for the first quarter of 2020 nationally and 4.7 percent for Georgia. The loss for the second quarter will not be known until the end of the month when new numbers are released. Assuredly, the numbers will be worse.

Lost production is a great economic concern for all of us. It means lost societal wealth and hardships for many individuals and their families.

The Precarious Federal Fiscal Position

Since March, Congress has poured $3 trillion into the economy to help us sustain the hit. This is an enormous sum greater than the annual federal spending for social security benefits, Medicare, and all other mandatory spending programs. Additionally, the Federal Reserve is making trillions of dollars more available to help the public withstand the economic impact of the pandemic. 

In the meantime, U.S. total debt now exceeds $26 trillion and continues to grow. This is more than the total annual production of the United States when last measured. 

The temptation to reverse course in reopening the economy and looking to Congress and the Federal Reserve to bail us out with even more spending comes with enormous risks: high inflation, higher taxes, slower economic growth, and less wealth. Poorer communities and persons with lower income typically suffer more from these consequences.

These risks are based on fundamental principles in economics. We cannot spend money without someone, somewhere, at some time paying for it. With all the new money spent by Congress and created by the Federal Reserve, we will have one of two likely non-exclusive ways to pay for it: higher taxes in the future and/or inflation.

The much worse of the two is inflation. It is a hidden tax that everyone—rich and poor alike—must pay. It will erode wealth and opportunities for many.

An uptick in inflation will place the Federal Reserve in a precarious position. The standard tool is to increase interest rates. However, this can jeopardize any economic recovery from the pandemic. It will also exacerbate the federal budget deficit because of the extraordinarily high national debt, while potentially adding even more to the debt. In federal fiscal year 2019, the federal government spent $376 billion in interest payment to service the national debt—an amount equal to 28 percent of discretionary spending. This amount could easily double over the next few years.

The Best Course of Action

We cannot afford to wait for a vaccine. We must find our way to reopen the economy that is well managed and reduces risks to those most vulnerable to the virus.

Low-risk individuals, including almost all children, need to return to their routines as much as practically possible. This is the best way to extend opportunities for everyone and rebuild wealth so everyone can have fulfilling lives. 

Our fate lies not only with Congress but also with our governors. Reopening the economy is necessary to avoid greater economic damage. Everyone’s well-being depends on it.  


Erik Randolph is Director of Research at the Georgia Center for Opportunity. This article reflects his calculations, analysis and opinion and does not necessarily reflect that of the Georgia Center for Opportunity.

To learn more about what Georgia Center for Opportunity is doing to help get Georgians back to work check out our Hiring Well, Doing Good initiative. 

Caring for Frontline Workers | HEALTHY @ HOME

Caring for Frontline Workers | HEALTHY @ HOME

Caring for Frontline Workers | HEALTHY @ HOME

This week we’re joined by expert and family counselor Diane Dierks, as she gives us a new perspective on caring for frontline and healthcare workers dealing with current events. 

We are driven by a belief – supported by experience and research- that people from all walks of life are more likely to flourish if they have an intact, healthy family and strong relationships.


To learn more about how the Healthy Families Initiative is active in the community, click here

A Community Responds to Need (or Good News You’ll Never See in Mainstream Media)

A Community Responds to Need (or Good News You’ll Never See in Mainstream Media)


A Community Responds to Need (or Good News You’ll Never See in Mainstream Media)




By Eric Cochling


Just seven months in and it’s fair to say that 2020 has been one of the most disastrous years in modern American history. The very fabric of our country seems to be unravelling before our eyes. As a year that can’t avoid being remembered in infamy, 2020 will forever be known for its pandemic, mass unemployment, police shootings, riots, and autonomous zones. For many of us born after the tumultuous 1960s, this is the first time we’ve seen our country in so much real, existential trouble. 


Despite all the terrible things that have happened, and despite a media establishment that seems all in on an “if it bleeds, it leads” approach, you don’t have to look too far to find reasons to be hopeful. Granted, you do have to look in different places to find the good news—you’re unlikely to see it in news broadcasts or social media where anger and outrage are the fuel.


Instead, you have to read a local paper or sign up for newsletters and blogs (like this one) from ministries and nonprofits that you know. If you do, what you will find is that many Americans—and you’re likely one—are quietly at work responding to community needs and finding ways to bring people together. 


In fact, many more of us are responding in this way than participating in riots or joining Twitter mobs. But because it’s the good, right, and (dare I say) expected response, it’s relegated to the “human interest” section of the paper, the end of the news broadcast, and the unpromoted backwaters of social media where virtually no one goes. At GCO, we are privileged to be working with community partners in just one of those efforts to respond to need. 


Leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, church, nonprofit, and community leaders in my hometown of Lawrenceville were already discussing ways we could partner to become better neighbors to those in poorer sections of the city. Unaware of what was coming, we prayed for guidance and started making initial plans for how best to work together. When COVID-19 struck and our state began shutting down, our group coalesced around a plan to serve those families living in extended stay hotels or rental properties in Lawrenceville who were on the verge of eviction. These were the families on the financial bubble pre-COVID and would be the first to be harmed as businesses shuttered. With funding from private philanthropy and the City of Lawrenceville, the Lawrenceville Response Center (LRC) was born. 


Through the partner organizations working through the LRC (organized and led by Impact46), our groups have provided case management (Village of Hope and St. Vincent de Paul), housing stability (the Lawrenceville Housing Authority), food security (the Lawrenceville Cooperative Ministry), mentoring and coaching (Lawrenceville Employee Assistance Program at First UMC Lawrenceville), and job search assistance (GCO’s Hiring Well, Doing Good program). To date, the LRC has helped more than 200 families avoid eviction, have sufficient nutrition, and get on the path back to a stable income.


It’s the biggest good news story in my community, but almost no one knows about it. It’s a story of people (with diversity of race, gender, income, political views, and faith) coming together to help alleviate and prevent suffering. As we enter into our third month of working together, we celebrate the successes we’ve seen:


  • The mom and daughter who now have a place of their own after spending many nights living in their car.
  • The couple who were unemployed and living under a bridge who are now in decent housing and working.
  • The mom and her two children who have been able to remain in an extended stay hotel while mom successfully found a new job.


There are other stories like this and there will be more. And our experience in Lawrenceville is certainly being replicated in other cities and states around the country. Even though you’ll almost never hear it from a 24-hour news channel or see it in your Twitter feed, this is how the vast majority of Americans respond in a crisis: They roll up their sleeves and help.


HWDG brings together community resources and technology to help un- and under-employed individuals achieve economic independence in three ways:


  • Offering support: Individuals can easily search for local service providers who can help them overcome barriers to employment.
  • Helping people find their strengths: Job seekers can identify their strengths and opportunities for employment through a soft skills assessment, a library of training programs, and a career pathway generator.
  • Linking people directly with job opportunities: Job seekers can then connect with jobs relevant to their skill sets and personal preferences and geographic area.



Highlighting Legislation Passed in the 2020 Georgia Legislative Session

Highlighting Legislation Passed in the 2020 Georgia Legislative Session

Highlighting Legislation Passed in the 2020 Georgia Legislative Session

By Buzz Brockway

 Ordinarily, the Georgia Legislature would have wrapped up its 40-day legislative session by the end of March. But 2020 is no ordinary year. As the pandemic spread, the Legislature suspended its session in mid-March with no return date announced. Eventually, lawmakers reconvened with 11 legislative days left to address a plethora of issues.


Looming large was the fiscal year 2021 budget, and as you can imagine, the budget outlook was much different in June than in March. State revenues plunged due to the shutdown and budget writers scrambled to decide the best path forward. After tapping into the state’s rainy-day fund, lawmakers passed a budget with 10 percent  cuts, approximately $2.2 billion smaller than originally proposed. No state department was spared, but some departments—like education—received smaller cuts than other departments. 


Apart from the budget, perhaps the issue that garnered the most attention was a hate crimes bill, HB 426. The murder of Ahmuad Arbery in Brunswick, GA, as well as the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police, created a political situation where ignoring this issue was impossible. Georgia previously had a hate crimes law that was declared unconstitutional by the State Supreme Court. HB 426, now signed into law by Governor Kemp, provides sentence enhancements after a person has been convicted of certain crimes motivated by bias against defined groups of people.


Two pieces of legislation we at the Georgia Center of Opportunity actively supported passed both houses and await the Governor’s signature. SB 288 allows a person convicted of certain non-violent misdemeanors, who have kept a clean record for a specific length of time, to seek to have those records restricted. This will allow these folks to have a better chance of employment. Another bill meant to assist people obtaining a job is HB 914. This bill will provide a temporary occupational license to spouses of members of the armed forces who move to Georgia. Georgia has a large number of military installations, so many people will benefit from this bill.


Other legislation of interest includes HB 888, which seeks to prevent “surprise billing.” A “surprise bill” occurs when an out-of-network physician treats a patient. These bills can become quite large. It is hoped this legislation will prevent this situation from occurring again. 


More progress was made in the fight against human trafficking as HB 823 and SB 435 passed.  HB 823 would prevent a truckdriver convicted of human trafficking of ever holding a commercial driver’s license again in Georgia. SB 435, known as the “Debbie Vance Act,” would allow a person convicted of trafficking to have their conviction vacated if they can prove they were a victim of human trafficking. 


Foster parents will be allowed to arrange for short-term babysitting under HB 912, which awaits the Governor’s signature. 


Government transparency and accountability got a boost with the passage of HB 1037. This bill would require audits on production companies seeking to take advantage of Georgia’s film tax credit. An audit earlier in the year revealed oversite problems in this very large tax credit. Price transparency for non-emergency medical services is the subject of SB 303, which was sent to the Governor’s desk. Empowering patients with pricing information can help lower costs for shopping of these non-emergency services. 


Despite the strange nature of the 2020 Legislative Session, many things were accomplished. The Georgia Center for Opportunity will continue to work hard to advance legislation to increase educational opportunity, knock down barriers to employment, and strengthen families. We look forward to continuing this effort in the next legislative session. 




We are driven by a belief – supported by experience and research- that people from all walks of life are more likely to flourish if they have an access to quality eduction, fulfilling employment, and live within healthy families. See what policy issues we’re working on to break down barriers and create pathways for all Georgians to flourish. 

Visit our Policy Solutions Initiative