By Barbara Moldauer
Everyone agrees that the road to a full reopening runs through America’s schools. But it is impossible to reopen schools safely without taking costly steps to protect students and educators alike—steps that are unaffordable with massive budget cuts on the way.
The National Education Association, which represents 3 million educators who serve 50 million students across the United States, has made it clear that the federal government should take immediate action to enable school districts and colleges to provide personal protective equipment (PPE); modify classrooms, cafeterias, and school buses to make social distancing possible; intensify instruction and support for students traumatized by the impact of the coronavirus on their families and communities; and so much more.
Yet, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says there’s no immediate need to act. In fact, he’s heading out tomorrow for a two-week break, even as the pandemic rages on, millions of workers remain unemployed, and school districts across the nation are scrambling to plan, with no additional resources on the way and no guidance from Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
McConnell has been enabled in his cavalier attitude, by other influential GOP senators who have refused to advocate for public schools—despite the fact that nearly 90 percent of families rely on public schools.
The truth is the longer the Senate delays, the greater the likelihood we’ll see a repeat of the Great Recession a decade ago, during which financially strapped states and localities cut essential student services and laid off tens of thousands of educators. This time, the damage could be even worse: nearly 2 million educator jobs could be lost over the next three years, according to an NEA analysis.
Those job losses will have the most profound negative impact on students of color, who are more likely to attend schools that rely on federal funding to lower class sizes, provide specialists, and sustain a rich curriculum in schools that serve high concentrations of lower-income students. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly 500,000 education jobs have already been lost.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
NEA supports the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act passed by the House, which would provide $915 billion in direct relief for state and local governments and $90 billion to stabilize education funding. If senators pass the HEROES Act, more than 800,000 education jobs could be saved—more than 673,000 K-12 and 153,000 higher ed jobs—the NEA data shows.
This week, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced the Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act to help reopen schools and campuses safely and save educators’ jobs. The bill would provide $175 billion for K-12 schools, $132 billion for higher education, and $4 billion for the E-Rate program to help narrow the digital divide and close the homework gap—all NEA priorities. It would also provide $12 billion for special education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and prevent Education Secretary Betsy DeVos from using taxpayer dollars for voucher schemes instead of the public schools that educate 9 out of 10 students, as Congress intended.
“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,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia. “Congress must take immediate action to save millions of jobs and ensure students don’t pay the price if states are forced to make deep cuts to education funding.”
YOU CAN HELP: Email your senators and tell them to take action to reopen schools safely and save education jobs.