By Amanda Menas
As educators across the country grapple with what it means to reopen schools, they know that without the full support of local and national legislators, the safety and equity of their students will be compromised. Nearly 2 million education jobs could be lost over the next three years if the Senate fails to act soon to close growing state and local budget gaps caused by COVID-19, a new NEA analysis and state-by-state breakdown warned.
“[The coronavirus pandemic] has deepened disparities and prompted state and local budget cuts that will devastate students in many public schools, severely restricting their opportunity for an education that sparks their curiosity, inspires their desire to learn, and sets them up for success,” said NEA Vice President Becky Pringle during Congressional testimony on June 15.
It has now been more than three months since the House of Representatives passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act and sent it to the Senate. The bill includes $100 billion specifically for K-12 and higher education along with $915 billion in state and local aid to address budget gaps that could be used to help public schools and college campuses. But, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to bring it to a vote, putting students, educators, and their families through undue hardship and uncertainty.
Additionally, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has used the public health emergency to push her anti-public education agenda. Instead of protecting the public schools that 90 percent of families rely on, she is holding up state funding and using the COVID-19 crisis to push her radical voucher schemes.
The Senate will soon leave for the July 4 recess without passing another major COVID relief package, leaving a deeply troubled economy and setting up schools to lose as much as one-fifth of the public education workforce over the next three years. As NEA President Lily Eskelsen García said, “The American economy cannot recover if schools can’t reopen, and we cannot properly reopen schools if funding is slashed and students don’t have what they need to be safe, learn, and succeed.”
These five senators are standing by as Majority Leader McConnell refuses to pass funding that will stabilize our schools:
Susan Collins, Maine
So far, Sen. Collins has promised action on behalf of education, but there are no signs that she can succeed in moving Majority Leader McConnell to act on another COVID-19 relief bill. This has been a common complaint about Collins in the last few years: big talk, but little delivery on her words. Will she step up and deliver for the educators and students who are depending on Congress to help states stabilize schools? Maine educators and students sure need her now, with 11,000 educator jobs on the line in Maine alone.
Steve Daines, Montana
With Sen. Daines’ approval numbers slipping to 48 percent amid the pandemic, it is no surprise that educators in Montana feel their voices are not being heard, their students are going unrepresented, and over 7,000 jobs are on the line. Senator Daines also filed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in support of public funding for religious education in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. The case could create a legal path for the expansion of voucher programs, further draining already scarce resources from the public schools that serve 90 percent of our nation’s students.
Cory Gardner, Colorado
Senator Gardner has blocked the rights of educators for years, a situation that has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. Having previously received $49,800 from the DeVos family, Gardner has time and again supported an anti-public education agenda. Now, nearly 30,000 Colorado educator jobs are on the line.
Martha McSally, Arizona
While thousands of residents of Arizona suffered the physical and financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sen. McSally said that smaller cities and towns are on their own to receive funding. Instead of supporting additional funding to protect the 36,606 Arizona education jobs that could be lost over three years, she accused smaller cities of using pandemic relief as a “cash cow.” However, even with relief funding, many municipalities will still suffer from the impact of the pandemic. McSally has enabled McConnell’s obstructionism, leaving her constituents without the leadership and relief they need.
Thom Tillis, North Carolina
In a state that is projected to lose nearly 80,000 educator jobs over three years, one of the highest projections in the country, Thom Tillis has been missing in action. These educators and their families will be subject to one of the nation’s lowest unemployment benefits because of cuts made by Tillis. He has blocked Medicaid expansion and attempted to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, even amid the height of the pandemic. Backed by DeVos family contributions, Tillis has said he wants to eliminate the entire US Department of Education, and since taking office has pushed forward continuous attacks against educators.