For Democrats, It’s Spending Over Science When It Comes To Schools

Contrary To The Science, Democrats And Unions Are Teaming Up To Say Schools Can’t Reopen Unless Dems Pass Their Massive Spending Bill While Powerful Teachers’ Unions Continue To Be A Key Impediment To Reopening Schools And Children Are Falling Through The Cracks Of Virtual Learning


SENATE REPUBLICAN LEADER MITCH McCONNELL (R-KY): “Millions of American kids in the public school system have been robbed of a year and counting of anything resembling a proper education…. [But] the White House keeps endorsing the idea that schools need the Democrats’ new spending plan to reopen — when the science disagrees, and furthermore, just 5% of what they propose to spend on schools would even be spent this fiscal year…. [P]rivate and religious schools have been teaching kids in person for months, without causing any explosion in the spread of the virus. Science tells us unambiguously that in-person schooling can be quite safe… and that having young children spend all day staring into a laptop is a nightmare. The evidence is crystal-clear. But Big Labor bureaucrats keep refusing to follow the science…. The Biden Administration has a clear obligation to tackle this special-interest madness head-on. Our kids are suffering. Not because science says they must be. It doesn’t. Just because a small group of powerful grown-ups have decided they prefer it this way. Instead, the White House keeps parroting the anti-science myths. They back this notion that schools need the Democrats’ new spending plan before they can reopen. Except that science completely disagrees. Except that only a tiny fraction of the funding request would even be spent this fiscal year. Our children’s futures are literally at stake. The Administration has got to stop taking orders from the public-sector unions that give generously to Democratic campaigns.” (Sen. McConnell, Remarks, 2/23/2021)


Senate Republicans: ‘Schools Can And Should Be Open, And They Can Do So Safely,’ ‘We Are Doing Immeasurable Damage … To A Generation Of Children,’ ‘There Is No Reason To Have Over $60 Billion Still Waiting To Be Spent If That Is What It Takes To Get Kids Back To School’

SEN. JOHN BOOZMAN (R-AR): “Of all the challenges we have faced through the COVID-19 pandemic, the mission of educating children continues to be one of the most critical and complex…. Arkansas is setting the example. The Natural State can be proud of the teachers, administrators, and elected leaders who continue to find ways to keep schools open and provide critical services that children deserve. It is time that students in other States have the same opportunities.” (Sen. Boozman, Congressional Record, S840, 2/24/2021)

SEN. ROY BLUNT (R-MO): “If schools need money right now, they, first of all, should spend the money that the Congress has already provided. There is no reason to have over $60 billion still waiting to be spent if that is what it takes to get kids back to school. This probably isn’t about funding. It is really a discussion about whether the schools should reopen and what else we need to do with money that might be available right now because of this coronavirus legislation. We need to be sure we get back to school. Our goal should not be to keep the schools closed. If it is, why are we providing all this extra money so that schools can reopen, even though it will be a long time before that is spent?” (Sen. Blunt, Congressional Record, S841, 2/24/2021)

SEN. JONI ERNST (R-IA): “To guide us through this pandemic, I suggest we follow these revised and updated three R’s of education: first, respect the science; second, reopen our schools safely; and third, return students, teachers, and learning to the classroom. It is long past time schools across the country follow the science and the data. Let’s do the right thing by safely getting our kids back in the classroom and help get our parents back to work. The well-being of our children, our working moms and dads, and our nation’s economy depend on it.” (Sen. Ernst, Congressional Record, S842, 2/24/2021)

SEN. RICK SCOTT (R-FL): “Continuing to subject kids to this unnecessary virtual-learning system is not backed by science or facts. I applaud my State of Florida for getting schools reopened quickly and safely. The science is overwhelming and clear about reopening our nation’s schools. It is safe, and it is necessary for the well-being and the future of students. The CDC confirmed last month that in-person instruction does not pose an increased risk of community transmission. Schools can and should be open, and they can do so safely. We need to be honest about why we are even having this conversation today. The only reason schools across the nation remain closed is because my Democratic colleagues and the Biden administration are standing with teachers unions instead of standing up for our children.” (Sen. Rick Scott, Congressional Record, S843, 2/24/2021)

SEN. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R-TN): “Students in this country are suffering. They are lonely, they are bored, and many of them are struggling with clinical depression and anxiety. Teen pregnancy, teen alcohol, and suicide rates are rising. Children need to be in in-person school. The American Academy of Pediatrics has repeatedly stated… that it is not only feasible but necessary for students to be back in school, back in the classroom, back to seeing their friends, back to participating in extracurricular activities and sports. I would ask my colleagues across the aisle to keep this in mind when they hear from so-called stakeholders who are willing to hold a child’s mental health hostage in exchange for a political win that will serve their power and their purposes and not that of the child’s. They might have powerful voices in the cable news circuit, but those sound bites will provide you no cover back home with the teachers and administrators who have rolled up their sleeves, have gotten to work, and have figured out a way to get schools open for the children.” (Sen. Blackburn, Congressional Record, S847, 2/24/2021)

SEN. STEVE DAINES (R-MT): “Schools across the nation remain closed to in-person instruction largely due to teachers unions and their influence on many of our local and Federal leaders on the other side of the aisle--all, unfortunately, to the detriment of the education and the health of our students. … Frankly, it is unacceptable that many of my colleagues across the aisle and the Biden administration are standing by while this happens to our students across our country. They have chosen to play politics with our nation’s students instead of ensuring that our children are getting the very best education possible, which is full-time, in-person instruction. They are intent on jamming through this partisan $1.9 trillion COVID package, which does include billions of dollars for schools. …The sad reality is, the more the American people hear what is in this $1.9 trillion package, the more they are not going to like it. Most of the money in this package is not to be spent now. In fact, 95 percent of it will be spent over the next 7 years, after the crisis. We should not use this COVID crisis as a liberal wish list of items here wherein 95 percent of it gets spent in the out-years. How does this help our students and our schools now? The answer is, it doesn’t.” (Sen. Daines, Congressional Record, S847-848, 2/24/2021)

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): “I am very proud of our efforts in Louisiana. Seventy percent of our public school students are back learning in person--70 percent. And I want to thank every teacher, every parent, every school board member, every maintenance worker in our schools, and anyone who directly or indirectly influenced this result. They are heroes in my opinion. Seventy percent--I am so proud of that. …  But that 70 percent figure that I am talking about, the number of our public school children in Louisiana who are back to in-person learning, is only 40 percent nationwide, and that is an embarrassment. That is a disgrace. We are doing immeasurable damage--immeasurable damage--to a generation of children. … But my point is that the experts, the science, all tell us that it is safe. And I have to tell you, I don’t mean to be unfair because I know it is complicated, or it can be, and I don’t mean disrespect, but I have been very, very disappointed with President Biden. He has flipped and flopped on this issue like a banked catfish. He has said we need to follow science, but he refuses to follow the science in terms of opening our schools. We know it can be done because we have been doing it in Louisiana.” (Sen. Kennedy, Congressional Record, S833-834, 2/24/2021)

SEN. SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO (R-WV): “I know there is no one-size-fits-all solution. State leaders, local governments, school administrators, and parents must take this data and these recommendations and apply them to the realities they see in their own communities. Congress has provided $68 billion in resources for K-12 schools that they could use last year, which schools could use to implement these strategies. For these, this may mean continuing some form of remote learning. For others, including my State of West Virginia, it means bringing every K-8 student to a 5-day school week.” (Sen. Capito, Congressional Record, S843, 2/24/2021)


In Cities Across The Country Teachers’ Unions Have Been ‘The Main Antagonist’ In Attempts To Reopen Schools

PHILADELPHIA, PA: “A few thousand Philadelphia public school students in kindergarten and first and second grades will return to in-person learning, starting Monday, March 8, city and school officials said today. Superintendent William Hite Jr. described the initial return as the beginning of a way to ‘slowly phase in’ in-person learning…. The city teachers’ union was the main antagonist in the battle with Hite and his administration over the reopening plan. The number of students is now going to be a third of that initial 9,000 that the district wanted to bring back, Hite said.” (“Philadelphia Public Schools Will Reopen for 3,000 Students on March 8,” NBC10 Philadelphia, 3/01/2021)

PITTSBURGH, PA: “Pittsburgh Public Schools remain closed, and the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers said they will stay that way until members can get vaccinated…. [Federal president Nina] Esposito-Visgitis said without the vaccine, teachers are not comfortable going back.”  (“Pittsburgh Teachers Union: Staff Won’t Return To Classroom Until Members Vaccinated,” WPXI-TV, 2/19/2021)

  • The executive board of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers last month unanimously adopted a resolution urging the superintendent and the board to delay the start of in-person learning until school staff can receive vaccinations…. Ms. Esposito-Visgitis, who acknowledged that state and federal health guidance says staff vaccines are not a prerequisite for reopening schools, said the union maintains that the district is not prepared to reopen and has questions about building ventilation and other issues.” (“Teachers Union Surprised By Pittsburgh Schools Reopening Plans,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2/23/2021)

MADISON, WI: “The Madison School District announced a plan Feb. 10 to return elementary students and staff to in-person learning…. A letter from Madison Teachers Inc. discouraged educators from supporting an early return to in-person learning due to low numbers of vaccinated individuals, health disparities and unsafe COVID-19 case numbers in Dane County. In the letter, MTI asked for assurance they would quickly receive COVID-19 vaccinations. They also asked for the district’s explicit reasoning for reopening.” (“Madison School District Proposes Early Return To In-Person Learning, Teachers Union Not Ready,” The Badger Herald, 2/28/2021)

SEATTLE, WA: “Seattle, the state’s largest district, is also one of the last districts in the state to return to in-person learning at any significant scale. The latest negotiations over how and when to expand in-person learning began in January, with union concerns hinging primarily on whether the district has put in place sufficient health and safety precautions, including increased ventilation in classrooms and PPE for staff.” (“Seattle Schools Says Many 'Essential' Staff Will Be Called Back To Classrooms In March,” KUOW Seattle, 2/27/2021)

  • “Seattle Public Schools informed hundreds of teachers and other school staff that they may be among those called back to buildings beginning March 8 to teach in-person classes. This is before the district reaches a reopening agreement with Seattle Education Association…. Union leaders called the district’s move a ‘union-busting tactic’ and said it is considering filing an unfair labor practice charge…. The district’s move drew harsh criticism from many union members, including many who were notified Friday that they may be required to return to buildings in just over a week.” (“Seattle Schools Says Many 'Essential' Staff Will Be Called Back To Classrooms In March,” KUOW Seattle, 2/27/2021)

SAN FRANCISCO, CA: “Fed up with the pace of plans to reopen public schools, parent groups are mobilizing against San Francisco’s elected school board, arguing it has given priority to social justice issues over getting kids back in classrooms. Two parents have launched a formal recall effort against three members of the school board, including its president and vice president, while another group is considering options that include asking voters to eliminate school board elections altogether. The parent activism is the latest development in the escalating San Francisco schools-reopening saga. Public schools have been shut down since last March, and negotiations between the local teachers union and the district remain at an impasse despite San Francisco having low Covid-19 rates for a major U.S. city.” (“San Francisco Parents Work to Recall School Board Members Amid Reopening Controversy,” The Wall Street Journal, 2/28/2021)

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, VA: “About 9,000 more Prince William County elementary, middle and high schoolers returned to school buildings [February 25th] for the first time this school year as a result of the school board’s decision last week to override Superintendent Steven Walts’ request to wait a few weeks longer…. The school board was split on the decision, voting 5-3 on Feb. 17 to reject Walts’ new timeline and carry on with returning students today…. The Prince William Education Association, the local teachers’ union, released a statement critical of the school board’s Feb. 17 decision, calling it a ‘defiance of science, safety and common sense’ and warning of a staff shortages. ‘The infrastructure and staffing requirements for the fraction of students whose parents have chosen to risk in-person learning is far from secure. As an organization of thousands of front-line workers, the PWEA has heard the realities 'on the ground' and in real time – and they are not consistent with the fantasy projected by certain members of the PWCS School Board,’ the statement said.” (“As Schools Reopen To More Students, School Board Chair Defends Decision To Reject Superintendent's Request For More Time,” Prince William Times, 2/25/2021)

BERKELEY, CA: “Matt Meyer, president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, has fought for what he called the ‘gold standard’ for the teachers he represents — saying Berkeley schools should only reopen to in-person learning when educators are vaccinated, among other criteria.” (“After Leading School Closures, Berkeley Teachers’ Union President Spotted Dropping Daughter Off at In-Person Preschool,” KQED San Francisco, 2/28/2021)

CALIFORNIA: “Most of California’s 6 million public schoolchildren have been out of classrooms for almost a year. The state’s deference to local school decision-making, along with union resistance and high winter case rates, have made it difficult for California to bring students back. While a Capitol deal may propel districts toward reopening, local school boards and their labor unions still have final say — and many want safety assurances that include vaccines and ventilation improvements.” (“Newsom Strikes School Reopening Deal With California Lawmakers,” Politico, 3/01/2021)


And National Teachers’ Unions Are Echoing Democrats’ Insistence That Schools Can’t Open Until Congress Passes Democrats’ Massive Unfocused Spending Bill

“[Randi] Weingarten, of the AFT, said Biden’s proposed pandemic relief would go far toward getting schools opened. But even if Congress approves it, she said, it could be months before schools receive it and make necessary fixes.” (“Reopening Debate Testing Biden’s Ties With Teachers Unions,” The Associated Press, 2/05/2021)

ANDREW CROOK, National Press Secretary for the American Federation of Teachers: “If you want to do the CDC recommendations around physical distancing, you probably need to hire more educators, and you probably need to pay for doubling the amount of school buses, you might need to double the number of bus drivers… And that costs money.” (“Teachers Unions Say CDC Reopening Guidelines Are Fine, if You’ve Got Cash,” The Daily Beast, 2/19/2021)

NEA and the Biden administration are on the same page: additional, significant relief is needed—and it is needed fast…. NEA’s top priorities for COVID-19 relief include dedicated education funding, state and local aid … Specifically, we support Biden’s proposed $130 billion in dedicated funding to help public K-12 school buildings reopen safely …” (“Tell Congress To Pass A Robust COVID-19 Package,” National Education Association’s Education Votes Website, 1/29/2021)

Dems: Opening Schools ‘Can Only Be Achieved’ By Passing Democrats’ Spending Bill

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: “Shortly before taking office, I set an ambitious but achievable goal of opening most K-8 schools by the end of my first 100 days. I’ve said all along that this is a national imperative — one that can only be achieved if Congress provides states and communities with the resources they need to get it done safely through the American Rescue Plan.” (President Biden, Statement, 2/12/2021)

QUESTION: “Are the goals as they are laid out right now for reopening entirely contingent on having the $130 billion, or are those goals to reopen a majority of schools by the end of 100 days based on not having that money and that money will only serve to turbocharge things?”
WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY JEN PSAKI: “Well, when the president announced his goal of reopening the majority of schools in 100 days, he conveyed that money was a pivotal part of that, and it is. And it is not--it is up to, of course, local school districts to determine which mitigation steps they will take. It is up to them to determine how they will use accessible funds. But that funding is needed by school districts across the country, and I think will be, you know, essential to our success.” (White House Press Briefing, 2/17/2021)

SENATE MAJORITY LEADER CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): “The solution is simple…. It’s giving school districts the funding they need to re-open safely.” (Sen. Schumer, Remarks, 2/23/2021)

HOUSE SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): “[W]ithout strong assistance from Congress, our schools cannot afford to enact the science-based safety precautions required – particularly in low-income, under-resourced communities that were already struggling before the pandemic.” (Speaker Pelosi, Press Release, 2/12/2021)


REMINDER: Democrats’ Spending Plan Would Not Distribute 95% Of The Money Allocated For K-12 Schools This Fiscal Year

CBO: “The legislation would appropriate $170.1 billion for the Department of Education mostly to make grants to states, local education agencies, and postsecondary education institutions, which would result in outlays totaling $170.1 billion over the 2021-2030 period, CBO estimates. The Congress previously provided nearly $31 billion for education stabilization in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, enacted on March 27, 2020, and another $82 billion for this purpose in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, enacted on December 27, 2020. Because most of those funds remain to be spent, CBO anticipates that the bulk of spending of funds provided in the reconciliation recommendations would occur after 2021.” (“Reconciliation Recommendations of the House Committee on Education and Labor,” Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimate, 2/15/2021, p. 3)


 CBO Chart Of Dem Education Spending

(“Reconciliation Recommendations of the House Committee on Education and Labor,” Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimate, 2/15/2021, p. 12)


Meanwhile, In Many States, The Number Of Chronically Absent Students Is Skyrocketing While School Districts Have Lost Thousands Of Pupils

“States around the country are reporting a significant decline in the number of students enrolled in public school because of the coronavirus pandemic, leaving experts and educators concerned about the trend, and its potential long-term consequences. A notable number of students seem to have simply fallen off the grid, not showing up for online or in-person instruction, their whereabouts unknown by school officials. … A recent study by Bellwether Education Partners, a non-profit that focuses on underserved communities, estimates that approximately 3 million of the ‘most educationally marginalized students in the country’ may have been missing from school since March 2020, when the pandemic forced school closures. The group said it arrived at the number by calculating a ‘likely percentage of at-risk groups not in school, based on media reports and available data.’” (“Thousands Of Students Reported 'Missing' From School Systems Nationwide Amid COVID-19 Pandemic,” ABC News, 3/02/2021)

“More children have been absent from school this academic year than a year earlier, with attendance declining as the pandemic wears on, new research and data show. Students attending school in person as well as those learning remotely are struggling with poor attendance, though it is worse among the millions of homebound students who are still learning primarily through a screen. Districts showed a 2.3% decline in average daily attendance nationally from September to November of last year, compared with the same period in 2019, according to data from PowerSchool, a company that helps schools track grades and attendance. Attendance fell in 75% of the districts as the year wore on, dropping by 1.5% on average each month, data show. The data covers 2,700 districts that include more than 2.5 million students learning in person and online.” (“Fewer Children Are Attending School, Remotely and In Person,” The Wall Street Journal, 2/05/2021)

CALIFORNIA:In California, where many districts remain mostly virtual, an analysis of attendance patterns at 33 districts covering 350,000 students this fall showed that the number of children who missed 10% or more instructional days increased among students in grades two through six, school years during which student attendance is typically reliable, according to School Innovations & Achievement, a California-based company that tracks attendance. The chronic absence rate across the 33 districts analyzed more than doubled for sixth and seventh-graders to 16.1% and 21.7%, respectively. Across all grades, absentee rates jumped the most among Black and Latino students in December, increasing to 30% and 21%, up from 18.4% and 12.8% respectively, from the same time a year earlier.” (“Fewer Children Are Attending School, Remotely and In Person,” The Wall Street Journal, 2/05/2021)

BOSTON, MA: “Two out of five high school juniors and seniors in Boston Public Schools were chronically absent from school in the fall — a sharp rise from pre-pandemic absentee rates that educators say could herald a devastating decline in the number of city students completing high school. The most striking increases in chronic absenteeism — defined as missing at least 10 percent of classes — occurred among Black, Latino, disabled, and English-learner students, according to Boston school district data, which showed that across all grades, the chronically absent rate rose from 21 to 26 percent.” (“40 Percent Of Boston High School Juniors And Seniors Are Chronically Absent, Raising Concerns About Their Futures,” The Boston Globe, 2/28/2021)

PROVIDENCE, RI:At Providence Public Schools in Rhode Island, where 30% of the district’s 22,600 students opted to stay remote in the fall, students learning remotely routinely attended class less often, especially younger students, and received a larger number of poor grades for incomplete classwork, said district superintendent Harrison Peters. About 85% of the students in the district qualify for free or reduced lunch. The data supports Mr. Peters’s initial concerns that students wouldn’t be as engaged while learning remotely. Daily attendance for all students, both in-person and remote, is at about 81%, 10 percentage points lower than last year.” (“Fewer Children Are Attending School, Remotely and In Person,” The Wall Street Journal, 2/05/2021)

DETROIT, MI: “Nikolai Vitti, the superintendent of Detroit Public Schools, said the number of students missing from classrooms is staggering. In the spring, only 10 percent of students were engaged with virtual learning, prompting the district to launch an aggressive campaign of door-to-door visits to ensure that families had devices and knew about when the district would open virtually. A month into the school year last fall, 8,000 students were still missing. About 5,000 of them joined the school year late.” (“Unprecedented Numbers Of Students Have Disappeared During The Pandemic. Schools Are Working Harder Than Ever To Find Them.,” The Washington Post, 2/25/2021)

NORTH CAROLINA: “In North Carolina, a state education official told state lawmakers in December that more than 10,000 students had not been accounted for.” (“Unprecedented Numbers Of Students Have Disappeared During The Pandemic. Schools Are Working Harder Than Ever To Find Them.,” The Washington Post, 2/25/2021)

NEW MEXICO: “New Mexico could not account for more than 12,000 students at the start of the school year, children who were enrolled before the pandemic but never showed up in the fall. This month, the state’s education department reported that more than 2,700 students were still missing.” (“Unprecedented Numbers Of Students Have Disappeared During The Pandemic. Schools Are Working Harder Than Ever To Find Them.,” The Washington Post, 2/25/2021)

DALLAS, TX: “At the halfway point of the school year, 1 in every 5 Dallas ISD high school students — roughly 9,000 of them — have stopped attending classes with any regularity. The district is redoubling its efforts to draw those students back. But it won’t be easy, and experts say that prolonged absenteeism will create hurdles for the state’s second-largest school district well into the future.” (“With 1 Of Every 5 High Schoolers Not Attending Classes With Regularity, Dallas ISD Launches Reconnection Effort,” Dallas Morning News, 2/04/2021)



Related Issues: COVID-19, Education