The situation does not justify cancellation of all loans or even monthly payments, as some groups, and policymakers like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), are proposing. The federal government has already budgeted based on loans being repaid, we have an almost $24 trillion national debt, and people with degrees typically have much higher earnings than those without. The coronavirus response is a temporary situation, while those would be long‐term financially, and arguably even morally, damaging actions. And no, we do not need loan cancellation for economic “stimulus,” especially considering that our main problem is not people lacking funds to engage in commerce, but lacking the physical willingness or ability to do so.
The other big education pause that makes considerable sense is issuing waivers to states from the federal requirement to administer statewide standardized tests to evaluate schools under the Every Student Succeeds Act. With the massive disruptions caused by school closures and movement to online learning, whatever data the tests produced would be largely useless to evaluate schools.
Testing might furnish interesting data to see how large—or maybe small—the disruption’s effect is, but given how deep the disruption is the tests must not be high‐stakes, with real ramifications for schools that perform poorly. But if the tests are not high‐stakes, this year’s results would be dubious even for assessing the effect of the disruption because the basic incentives surrounding the testing—“counting” versus “not counting”—will have changed.
Of course, standardized testing was limited in its ability to inform before the coronavirus disruption, and unlike the clear reasons that people should ultimately repay their loans, there are good arguments for ending federal testing mandates entirely. But both testing and loan‐repayment pauses under the coronavirus threat should be temporary, and lasting changes only made through a normal legislative process. We must not fall prey to the temptation to take advantage of a crisis and rush through major reforms we’ve always wanted.
Coping with a pandemic is a new experience for just about everyone in the United States, and given the lock‐down we’ve all been told to enter, it makes sense for Washington to relieve people of burdens that the extraordinary times may render them unable to bear. But we must be prudent about what we do, and not use the immediate response to this temporary situation to make permanent, costly changes.