We’ve asked kids to show up — Congress must do the same
During the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems everything is up for debate. We’ve all watched as Americans – divided in this moment – have politicized mask wearing, testing and social distancing — and yet the pandemic is still growing. Against this backdrop, we’ve repeatedly heard the calls that schools must reopen for our economy to reopen more fully, placing the burden of a global pandemic and all of its consequences on our children. Policymakers are asking our children to show up to schools that were already underfunded before the pandemic, and that are now ill-equipped to physically reopen safely.
Congress is asking more of our children – to show up and save our economy – than they are willing to give of themselves. As students return to school, Congress has gone on recess, ignoring calls to fund the needs of schools across the country. And while the House has come back amid outcries about the U.S. Postal Service, I question why they didn’t feel that same obligation to the more than 56 million public school students and 3 million teachers across the country.
We’ve already seen K-12 schools and higher education institutions being forced to shut down within days or weeks of reopening because of COVID-19 outbreaks. We’ve heard from parents and teachers that they are not comfortable having children return to in-person classes. And we’ve heard directly from students about their fears of attending school this year. And yet all of those cries were not loud enough to keep Congress in session to pass the next stimulus bill, including critical funding for education to help make in-person schooling safer and virtual schooling better.
Instead of being on recess, Congress should be in session committing to finding a solution that provides adequate funds so that schools can make decisions based on the advice of local public health officials rather than scrambling with the few resources they have. Congress must also adequately fund schools to provide high-quality instruction, even to our most vulnerable students, regardless of whether the instruction is being delivered virtually, in-person or in a hybrid model. This includes funding $4 billion to get all students connected and close the remote-learning and homework gap. And it also includes $250 billion that education advocates have requested to cover the unique costs of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, with a particular focus of that funding being targeted to our most vulnerable students.
Even once that’s done, there will still be work to do. Congress will need to keep working together to help schools and students recover, by tripling Title I funding over the next three years to fill funding gaps and address learning loss that schools will face. And we will need to plan for the future, so that we are better prepared for the next crisis, and so that our children are not the ones bearing the brunt of whatever may come our way.
Congress signed up to be the adults in the room. They sought out the opportunity to serve the public in the face of a crisis. If we are asking America’s children to show up, it’s time for Congress to do the same.
Lorén Cox, PhD, is senior director of policy, advocacy and community engagement at the KIPP Foundation.