As the FDA chief, Dr. Scott Gotlieb recently announced that a fully remote school year is “possible” this year without mitigation tactics, it reminds me that there is a growing schism between public and private school education. Given Gotlieb’s remarks are meant as a form of dire warning, it’s at least a possibility that some schools will be fully remote again this fall (collective parental groan…). Note the term, “some schools,” because the some schools I’m really referring to are public schools, those funded by the state.

By May 3rd of 2021, 47% of public schools remained fully remote while a mere 5% of privately funded schools were still fully remote by that time. Because of superior funding and flexibility, private and boarding schools were far more able to launch initiatives that allowed students to return to school in person, while public schools remained deadlocked by political turmoil and insufficient financing. Private schools could afford to segregate lunch programs, running kids through their serveries in waves; they could afford more distancing protocols in classrooms, better equipment to mitigate the spread of the virus; and thus they were able to return in person more rapidly, efficiently and permanently. Public schools were left struggling with Zoom classrooms environments for even the youngest students, which were entirely ineffective, observing the disparity of intellectual and professional wealth increase five-fold.

As a result of this, there has been an exodus from public schools. In fall of 2020 there was an increase of 6% in private school enrollment and the fall of 2021 projects another 7% increase based on estimates. Students are stampeding towards the privately funded doors faster than the infrastructure can even adjust to accommodate them. The “haves” and the “have-nots” are increasingly defined by access to private classroom education and private tutoring, and reasonable, in-person classroom experience, the offering vetted only to the most elite.

Given that the greatest defining characteristic of quality of school is the peers that students congregate with, this exodus will dramatically erode the quality of public education versus private education, a trend not likely to reverse any time soon given the evolution of social attitudes about education. Word to the wise: plan accordingly.