Has there ever been a year that better informed what the next year’s work ought to be? Perhaps, but the to-do list for Georgia in 2021 clearly takes its cues from the mercifully ending 2020.
Our students should be first in line to have this year’s wrongs set right. Too many education leaders waited too long to recognize that the dangers of keeping schools closed outweighed the dangers of reopening them with proper precautions. Still more sought to use the pandemic as an excuse to shirk accountability measures they’ve disliked for years.
The result of all of this is substantial learning loss that threatens to endure barring swift, strong action. Reading on level by third grade, for example, isn’t ground that easily can be made up later. Students need education leaders in Georgia to produce clear, thoughtful plans for returning everyone to school safely and permanently — and, yes, testing and other accountability measures, with real consequences for failure, to measure and track their achievement and target those who need extra help.
There’s been precious little evidence so far of those plans being produced. It is almost certain that many kids will fall between the cracks unless they get the type and amount of attention required. Students deserve to have more options so they can find the education that meets their needs and helps them excel.
The vulnerable among us also increased due to shortcomings of our health care systems. Doctors, nurses and others in that field have worked heroically this year. Despite those heroics, troubles befalling everyone from patients to hospital systems demonstrate clearer than ever the brokenness of our health care finances.
More government control isn’t the answer. That’s what brought us to this point: overly tight restrictions when it comes to licensing health care professionals and allowing them to perform all of the work they’re trained to do; a third-party payer system that hides the true cost of services from most consumers and makes it exceedingly difficult for them to find better value for their money; and regulations that protect incumbent hospitals, insurers and other market participants at the expense of entrepreneurs, innovators and the patients who would benefit from their new approaches.
Let’s add a third market that is wildly distorted by government’s heavy hand: housing. The shortage of suitable housing at all price points is a growing problem owing to many factors. But much of what government does in the name of making housing cheaper — or, sometimes, “better” — is counterproductive.
Now, add to the mix a federal moratorium on evictions that, while certainly well-intentioned, has the potential to create an epic crisis of people being thrown out of their homes all at once whenever it ends (currently scheduled for the end of December). Even if it is extended, the day of reckoning will come sometime, either for renters and homeowners behind on their payments, or for landlords and lenders who could go bankrupt. Housing has been a notable bright spot during a tough economic year, but that could change absent a sensible way out of this manmade crisis.
Finally, the economic recovery in 2020 has gone better than most expected when it first became clear the pandemic would drive the country, and much of the world, into recession. But many Georgians have been left behind, and their personal economic recoveries will depend on maximizing their potential by opening more doors of opportunity.
A decade ago, as we were emerging from the last recession, the General Assembly sought to improve opportunity and competitiveness by an overhaul of our tax code, which was designed for an economy that no longer existed. Many of the reforms legislators considered were never adopted. The need since then has only grown; it’s time to take another look at comprehensive reforms.
That’s quite a list for the new year. But if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that change can be greater than any of us imagined. If that’s the case, we ought to pursue change for the better.