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Time is short to fix these three major problems | Editorial
Housing, education and policing need solutions right now.
We have to figure out ways to get kids back into classrooms at the start of the next school year.
We have to figure out ways to get kids back into classrooms at the start of the next school year. [ Times (2019) ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Jun. 6, 2020

The clock is ticking to solve three seemingly intractable problems: the education gap worsened by the pandemic’s forced distance learning; the long-standing problem of policing and people of color; and how to prevent mass evictions of renters with unemployment in double digits. In each case, there is a short window of opportunity to make things better before they could get much worse. Can we defuse these time bombs?

EDUCATION

The quote: “Where other people go home and have dinner with their families, some of my kids don’t. They don’t know what that looks like. Guardians’ or parents’ main concern is not homework — it’s where’s my next meal coming from? Am I able to pay rent? Can I pay my utilities? Is someone going to break in?” Tami VanOverbeke, the principal of Manatee Elementary School, where 100 percent of students are economically disadvantaged, told the Bradenton Herald.

The statistic: About a third of U.S. teachers report less than half of their students took part in remote learning, according to a survey by the nonprofit advocacy group Educators for Excellence. The survey also suggests that distance learning is leaving behind minority children and students living in poverty.

The problem: Summer vacation already exacerbates the gap between many lower-income and affluent students, as the better-off students have enrichment opportunities all summer long. Poorer students, lacking the same opportunities, often regress. Most students have been away from their physical classrooms since March. Imagine the gap that will exist when the new school year starts.

Here’s the deal: While taking proper precautions for vulnerable students and staffers, school districts must find a way to get the neediest students back into the classroom with an emphasis on remediation for the many who will have fallen behind. Education experts can work out the details, but the bottom line is clear: Many students need a classroom experience to catch up, and the districts need to provide it.

POLICING

The quote: "They’re not anti-cop; they’re anti-police brutality, as we all should be,” Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan said of protesters last week.

The statistic: About 1 in every 1,000 black men in America can expect to be killed by the police, according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The problem: Everyone wants to be protected by the police, but too many people of color fear they need protection from the police, whether driving while black, walking while black, shopping while black or just living while black.

Here’s the deal: Being a police officer is hard and dangerous. But that’s no reason to excuse the bad acts of bad cops. Reformist police chiefs must have the authority to change the culture of departments to remind officers that they are civilians, not soldiers, and that they vowed to serve and protect. Anything a particular police department can do to show that its officers truly are different and should not be lumped in with bad cops amid the national criticism is a positive step. Answer the anger with a focused, local response.

HOUSING

The quote: “People that don’t have the income to pay their rent, coupled with their inability to get unemployment (benefits) ... that’s a tsunami continuing to rise,” said Tom DiFiore, team leader of the housing unit at Bay Area Legal Services.

The statistic: More than three out of every five renters are concerned about being able to pay their rent, according to Edison Research.

The problem: Gov. Ron DeSantis has extended the stay on evictions until July. That’s a good step in light of the current economic carnage, but it doesn’t solve the problem. It only pushes it ahead on the calendar, especially given how long the economic recovery is likely to take. Those rents must eventually come due. Landlords need to be paid or they will succumb to the financial stress. The cascading effect can result in banks foreclosing on rental homes, which doesn’t help renters or landlords.

Here’s the deal: This is not the time to wait and see what happens. The economy isn’t going to return to health in a month. State and local governments need to use the breathing room provided by the governor’s reprieve to work on meaningful solutions and to prepare for the likely increase in evictions and foreclosures. Renters and landlords shouldn’t count on an easy ride. They, too, must make smart decisions now to ensure they can navigate what will be a difficult few months, even if more federal or state government support is on the way.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news