Two weeks after returning from vacation, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and his Senate enablers revealed their current take on COVID-19—a bill with zero chance of passing the Senate, let alone the House. Those shortcomings reflect the chaos and disarray within the GOP, and something even worse: a refusal to take the pandemic seriously. More than two months after the House passed the HEROES Act, nothing has changed from the GOP’s perspective.
Officially called the HEALS Act—a cruel irony—McConnell’s bill does too little, too late about what students, parents, and educators care about most: reopening schools safely, providing meaningful distance learning, and bridging the gaps in state and local budgets that have already cost nearly a million educators their jobs.
Again and again, McConnell has proclaimed liability protection his top priority—in his own words, to protect against “an epidemic of lawsuits” that does not exist. His bill waives liability but requires neither federal nor state mandates to protect health and safety—an approach that encourages schools and campuses to reopen despite public health concerns while sending the message that they are, indeed, unsafe.
Other provisions further political and ideological goals. To pressure schools to reopen without regard to safety, the HEALS Act reserves two-thirds of K-12 emergency funding for schools that physically reopen and provide in-person instruction. To help privatize education—Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ goal from the start—the bill uses two mechanisms to siphon funding from the public schools that educate 9 out of 10 students: vouchers funneled through non-profits (like foundations) and set-asides for private schools.
The true nature of the HEALS Act—a transparent attempt to achieve political goals, not alleviate suffering—is revealed by what it does NOT do. The suspension of payments on student loan debt is not renewed. The moratorium on evicting renters is not renewed. States and localities do not get any of the support they need to close the budget caps caused by COVID-19, an omission that could prolong the pandemic and worsen the economic crisis.
COVID-19 has already done more than enough damage to our nation—more than 150,000 deaths and the biggest quarterly economic contraction in U.S. history. To save lives, stem the economic decline, and begin the healing, Congress needs to stop playing games and craft a bipartisan bill that can pass both the House and the Senate. The road to recovery truly does run through our schools and campuses.
Email your senators and tell them to take action to reopen schools and campuses safely and save educators’ jobs.