COVID relief vital to successful reopening of schools
It’s been over a year since students and families around the country had their lives and education upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. Millions of students had to adapt to a whole new world of learning — a world that isn’t shy of difficulty and disparity. But, in spite of this, teachers, administrators, and school employees alike have worked tirelessly to support our children during this time of great uncertainty — and as states begin to reopen, it’s now our job to ensure that they have the resources they need to ensure their schools’ safely and wellbeing.
This is why the American Rescue Plan is so critical. It puts safety first, and helps students, universities, and communities around the nation get back on track, and build back better.
At the forefront of this public health crisis, the greatest concerns have been for the health and safety of our students and their families. And now, a year later, there is a safe path forward — and we can do it, both in communities throughout my congressional district, and in communities around the nation.
As schools begin to re-open and our students head back to their classrooms, Congress, the Biden-Harris administration, and Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona have been hard at work to provide the resources and support our schools need to make in-person learning a reality again — being driven by science and supported by educators, students, and their families along the way.
As the only formerly undocumented member of Congress, I’m especially appreciative of Secretary Cardona and the U.S. Department of Education for ensuring this vitally necessary funding reaches every student who has been severely impacted by this pandemic, including DACA recipients, undocumented students, and international students. Members of Congress, including myself and our bicameral leaders in higher education, have been absolutely clear that the decision by the prior administration to exclude these students from emergency aid — many of whom suspended their education in order to work in frontline jobs during this pandemic — was a sure-fire contradiction to original congressional intent and a plain reading of the law.
And for a solution to get our education system back on track, you don’t need to look any farther than the American Rescue Plan. It delivers $125 billion for K-12 education and nearly $40 billion for childcare providers, including Head Start, to get our children safely back in schools. These funds were made available to state education departments so that they can get schools open safely, keep schools open safely, and reinvigorate our students – because the toll virtual learning took on our children will take years to remedy.
It comes as no surprise that virtual learning has put an incredible burden on our community – with countless families around the country needing more resources to manage their children’s education from home, having to adapt to working from home, battling to secure unemployment assistance, and so much more. Simply put, the transition to online learning was no small feat to be tackled by our teachers and school administrators, and they should be applauded for how much they were able to accomplish. However, we now see the additional stressors this transition put on our educators and staff who are – still – working overtime to re-create engaging and creative learning spaces online for our students.
But this transition to virtual and remote learning also put a burden on our students – a heavy one. With over a year in-person engagement lost, our children have been barred from developing crucial social skills that just simply can’t be learned through their screens. Too many students have had to resort to using free, and limited, Wi-Fi from restaurants, public libraries, and other businesses while using school-issued laptops, tablets, and other devices just to get by and complete their assignments on time. And because of this, we’re seeing disparities like these more clearly now than ever before, seeing just as clearly the structural weaknesses that COVID-19 exposed — and exploited.
While we do not yet know the long-term effects that this crisis will have on the next generation, we know that — at least in the near-term — in-person learning is absolutely critical. And that’s why we need to reopen our schools safely.
With the American Rescue plan providing billions for COVID-19 tracing, testing, and vaccines, states can — and must — finally get our children safely back in school. And it’s about time.
We can’t become passive or take for granted the process we have made as a nation. We need to continue following the CDC protocols, getting our families vaccinated, and wearing face masks as needed for those yet to be fully vaccinated. And with this nearly $130 billion investment from the American Rescue Plan, we can modify our educational spaces so students and teachers can socially distance, have improved ventilation in closed areas, and be provided additional support to get our children’s educations back on track.
The American Rescue Plan also provides $36 billion for nearly 5,000 public and private, nonprofit colleges and universities nationwide and will help local institutions cope with the severe financial distress caused by the pandemic and as they continue serving their students safely. At least half of the funding each institution receives will be distributed in the form of emergency cash assistance grants to students who are facing hunger, homelessness, and other hardship. On top of that, nearly $3 billion in additional funding will be made available for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), other Minority-Serving Institutions, and other under-resourced institutions.
I know that what we have asked of our schools, our educators, our students, and their families has been extraordinary. But now, with vaccines becoming available to more and more adults and children, and with the measures we’ve learned and deployed to stop the spread of COVID-19 and combat this pandemic, we now have the resources needed to make a larger and more robust return to in-person learning — all while keeping our children safe, and lifting a burden off of their families along the way.
Schools don’t serve just one purpose — and this pandemic has shown us that. Schools are a place for education, recreation, nutrition, health care, mental health care, and emotional support. Our children need to get back to learning about different cultures and experiences. And with the American Rescue Plan, we can do it.
Representative Espaillat is the first Dominican American to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives and his congressional district includes Harlem, East Harlem, West Harlem, Hamilton Heights, Washington Heights, Inwood, Marble Hill and the north-west Bronx. First elected to Congress in 2016, Rep. Espaillat is serving his third term in Congress and currently serves as a member of the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations responsible for funding the federal government’s vital activities and as a member of the House Committee on Education and Labor. To find out more about Rep. Espaillat, visit https://espaillat.house.gov/.