06.22.20

Baldwin, Colleagues: $175 Billion Education Investment Urgently Needed to Save the 2021 School Year & U.S. Economy

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As health and education officials in Wisconsin and across the country develop novel coronavirus (COVID-19) guidelines, precautions, and restrictions for reopening schools this fall, U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), and her Senate Democratic colleagues are urging Congress and the Trump administration to act with the same sense of urgency and provide additional federal funding to help students safely return to the classroom.

Without swift, comprehensive Congressional action, it will be nearly impossible for America’s 100,000 K-12 public schools -- which are already facing severe budget cuts -- to adequately prepare to protect students, teachers, staff, families, and the community from the spread of COVID-19 in the coming academic year.

Senator Baldwin and 41 Senate Democrats, led by Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), are calling for at least $175 billion for the Elementary and Secondary Education Relief Fund in any future coronavirus relief package.

“There can be no economic recovery in either the short term or the long term unless we make the investments necessary to safely reopen schools and ensure continuity of education during the ongoing pandemic,” the Senators wrote. “If schools are unable to reopen safely, it will be nearly impossible for many parents and caregivers to return to work. Moreover, the long-term consequences of sustained educational disruption could also hold this generation back, affecting students’ quality of life and weakening our nation. We must take urgent action to ensure that schools are ready and able to educate children this fall and redouble our efforts to close opportunity gaps that are far too prevalent in the communities suffering the greatest health and economic harm from the impact of COVID-19. As such, we ask that you include at least an additional $175 billion in dedicated funding for the Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief Fund that was established under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.”

The CARES Act provided a much-needed $30.75 billion down payment on education funding, but not nearly enough to help cover the additional costs from this school year while also ensuring that schools nationwide will be ready to safely reopen in the fall. Under the law, $13.5 billion went to K-12 emergency relief grants, while $13.95 billion was made available for a Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund for colleges and universities, with the remaining $2.95 billion directed to an Education Stabilization Fund for disbursement to governors.

Baldwin, Reed and their colleagues note K-12 schools are facing added expenses this year amidst budget cuts and declining state and local revenue. The Senators are urging Congress to prioritize the health and education of America’s children and provide at least $175 billion for K-12 education in the next COVID-19 relief package.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans have instead opted to focus on partisan nominations instead of safely reopening schools. This Republican blocking creates needless budget uncertainty and place the reopening of schools around the country -- especially in school districts hit hardest by COVID-19 – in peril.

The Senators say it is important for communities and school leaders to be able to adequately prepare for the school year and urge Republicans to work on a bipartisan education package in the next coronavirus relief bill.

“This upcoming school year will be like no other,” the Senators wrote.  “School districts will need to redesign the school day and be prepared to switch to distance learning as necessary.  There will be new protocols for sanitation, transportation, and staffing.  Schools will have to reengineer the use of space in and around the school building and reconfigure classrooms to ensure that social distancing can be maintained.  More critically, they will also need to increase their capacity to support children’s well-being – including nutrition, health screenings, and mental health supports – whether in person or at a distance.   One thing is certain, school is a lifeline for children in the communities hit hardest by the pandemic and the ensuing economic fallout.  School must be there for them.”

In addition to Baldwin and Reed, the letter is signed by U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Bob Casey (D-PA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Edward Markey (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tom Udall (D-NM), Gary Peters (D-MI), Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) Mark Warner (D-VA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Angus S. King (I-ME), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tom Carper (D-DE), Chris Coons (D-DE), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Chris Murphy (D-CT).

Full text of the letter follows:

 

June 18, 2020

Dear Leader McConnell and Leader Schumer:

There can be no economic recovery in either the short term or the long term unless we make the investments necessary to safely reopen schools and ensure continuity of education during the ongoing pandemic.  If schools are unable to reopen safely, it will be nearly impossible for many parents and caregivers to return to work.  Moreover, the long-term consequences of sustained educational disruption could also hold this generation back, affecting students’ quality of life and weakening our nation.   We must take urgent action to ensure that schools are ready and able to educate children this fall and redouble our efforts to close opportunity gaps that are far too prevalent in the communities suffering the greatest health and economic harm from the impact of COVID-19.  As such, we ask that you include at least an additional $175 billion in dedicated funding for the Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief Fund that was established under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

This upcoming school year will be like no other.  School districts will need to redesign the school day and be prepared to switch to distance learning as necessary.  There will be new protocols for sanitation, transportation, and staffing.  Schools will have to reengineer the use of space in and around the school building and reconfigure classrooms to ensure that social distancing can be maintained.  More critically, they will also need to increase their capacity to support children’s well-being – including nutrition, health screenings, and mental health supports – whether in person or at a distance.   One thing is certain, school is a lifeline for children in the communities hit hardest by the pandemic and the ensuing economic fallout.  School must be there for them.

We are counting on schools being able to deliver these services.  Yet we know the resources are not there.  State and local governments are reeling from the loss of revenue due to the economic shutdown caused by the pandemic.  A recent report from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities estimates $765 billion in state budget shortfalls over the next three years.  School districts across the country are issuing layoff notices in anticipation of budget cuts.  Even if schools were able to maintain current levels of staffing and financial resources, it would not be enough to meet the challenges of the upcoming academic year.  AASA, The School Superintendents Association, estimates that the average additional COVID-related cost per student will be $490, which for the average school district of 3,700 students amounts to $1.8 million.  A recent analysis from the Learning Policy Institute estimates that the national financial impact of increased costs and decreased state and local education revenues could be nearly $230 billion. 

The federal government must step in with a comprehensive plan to support the reopening of schools and continuity of education for our children.  Such a plan would stabilize state and local budgets, ensure equity in access to technology and broadband, enhance nutrition services, ensure sufficient testing and contact tracing to control the spread of the virus, and expand the reach of our cultural agencies such as the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities to enhance school offerings and support continued learning in the community.  However, the central feature of the plan must be substantial dedicated resources for our public schools to meet the additional costs and to address the additional needs of students during this time of public health, economic, and social crises.  As such, we urge you to provide at least an additional $175 billion for the Elementary and Secondary Education Relief Fund in any future coronavirus relief package.

Thank you for your consideration of this critical request.

Sincerely,