WASHINGTON—As Congress begins negotiations on a desperately needed new wave of federal stimulus, the American Federation of Teachers released a double-pronged economic analysis revealing the hundreds of billions of dollars in urgent assistance necessary to stop record layoffs at public schools and colleges and to protect students and educators from the coronavirus.
A Time to Act: the Importance of Investment in Public Education and Other State and Local Services in the time of COVID-19 calculates the need to fill a gaping $93.5 billion preK-12 funding gap and $45 billion higher education funding shortfall caused by the country’s economic slump. And it identifies an additional $116.5 billion to equip schools and colleges with physical distancing, masks, Plexiglas, hand-washing stations, cleaning supplies, test kits, and other resources like ventilation retrofits necessary to halt the virus’ spread—as well as resources like nurses and guidance counselors to meet the needs of students.
If the federal government fails to prioritize aid to state and local governments and direct assistance to public schools and colleges, the report finds nearly 1.4 million public education jobs will be lost and schools throughout the country will be forced to meet remotely indefinitely.
The House of Representatives and the Senate will reconvene today in a last-chance legislative gambit before November’s election to pass a COVID-19 bill that prioritizes the substantial state and local aid working people need to stabilize their lives and the nation’s economy, and avoid a prolonged recession.
“Our nation is at a critical crossroad, and the decisions Congress and the president make in the next two weeks will be felt for generations to come,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “The United States faces the highest COVID-19 death toll of any country, and infection rates are soaring and the economic carnage is growing grimmer by the day. If Congress fails to act now, millions more American workers will be relegated to the unemployment lines and a generation of students will be added to the coronavirus toll. This time it’s foreseeable, and those who refuse to act will bear the consequences.”
States and localities cannot close expected revenue shortfalls on their own. Congress needs to deliver significant aid to help them fill these gaps. Without it, states will be forced to make hundreds of billions in additional cuts—the exact opposite of what almost every economist says is needed during a public health pandemic.
Absent a federal lifeline, the growing state and local education budget gap would result in a total of 1,356,000 job losses—1 million in preK-12 and 400,000 in higher education, about 432,000 more than have been lost to date.
Additionally, the union also estimates that it would take a half-trillion dollars to safely reopen our nation’s preK-12 public school system and meet Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos’ goal of fully reopening everywhere, noting that no such federal support has ever been requested by the administration.
In May, the House passed the HEROES Act, which includes more than $1 trillion in aid to state and local governments, public school districts, and colleges and universities. Last month, Sen. Patty Murray introduced the Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act, which would provide $175 billion for K-12 schools and $132 billion for higher education.
“Educators have been trying to figure out how to safely return to face-to-face instruction at public schools and universities,” continued Weingarten. “Nurses are continuing to work at patients’ bedsides even when personal protective equipment is scarce. Public employees are striving to safely maintain the systems we all rely on, from transportation to social services. But their work is jeopardized by a lack of federal resources and federal planning that puts all of our communities at risk.
“Congress has a choice—either fund our future and tackle the virus, or meekly surrender to the triple crisis of the pandemic, the economic recession and structural racism. We’re facing an unmitigated disaster—and we hope our cries for help are heeded before it’s too late.”