While Republicans have been pushing for schools across the US to reopen as coronavirus cases drop throughout the US, Democrats say the proposed stimulus bill will be a step toward fully reopening classrooms.
While some schools are partially reopening, many are not back to five-day-a-week learning due to updated CDC guidelines. While the CDC has said that schools have generally not been the site for outbreaks of the coronavirus, the agency said this week cases have spread among staff members in areas with high community spread. The CDC's guidelines call for schools in areas of high community spread of COVID-19 to limit in-person instruction unless social distancing guidelines can be followed.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi says that President Joe Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion stimulus package will help in reopening schools. Pelosi released a tweet on Wednesday outlining that $130 billion from the package will be used to assist schools in reopening.
Let's get this straight. Schools asked for relief: Democrats responded with the needed resources - Republicans are choosing not to help.@POTUS Rescue Plan makes $130B available immediately to— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) February 25, 2021
- Get schools open safely
- Keep schools open safely
- Make up for lost learning time pic.twitter.com/xxWza5JotG
“This bill does not dedicate real money to reopen schools,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise said on Wednesday. “The $130 billion plus going to schools doesn’t have to be used to safely reopen schools.”
Some of the funds, nearly $60 billion, are being directed to schools in hopes of avoiding layoffs and budget gaps within schools, which arguably would not address the immediate goal of reopening schools. The funds are intended to assist schools that may have seen a decrease in tax revenue amid the pandemic.
The bill also includes $50 billion to promote social distancing within schools. Some of the remaining funds for schools will be used to add health care workers and personal protective equipment within schools.
Scalise is skeptical if the stimulus plan is passed whether it would allow for students to return soon.
“Parents don’t want to wait another year to have their kids safely in the classroom,” he said.
The CDC says that virtual options should remain for teachers and students who are considered high risk.
"We have in the guidance clear language that specifies that teachers that are at higher risk, teachers and students that are higher risk and their families should have options for virtual activities, virtual learning, virtual teaching,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky said earlier this month on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
While not putting a timeline on when kids would safely be able to return to school, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Biden’s goal is to return students to school safely.
“I can convey to you that his commitment is to the students and to the teachers and to the parents who want to have their kids back in school, and he wants to do that safely,” Psaki said on Wednesday. “And that's what his focus is on, and that's the role he can play from the federal government.”
While many states are in the process of vaccinating teachers in hopes of fully reopening schools, America’s largest teacher’s union says more must be done to protect students and teachers within the classroom.
“We must also recognize that CDC standards still aren’t being met in too many of our schools,” the NEA said in a statement. “Many schools, especially those attended by Black, brown, indigenous, and poor white students, have severely outdated ventilation systems and no testing or tracing programs. State and local leaders cannot pick and choose which guidelines to follow and which students get resources to keep them safe. And too many schools do not have in place the basic protections that the CDC has said are universally required.”