WASHINGTON—The American Federation of Teachers has released a new study spelling out the level of investment required to reopen schools in the fall, as a Senate committee meets to discuss the crisis.
The AFT’s “Reopening Schools During a Time of Triple Crisis: Financial Implications,” published Wednesday, sounds the alarm over the scale of expenditure federal lawmakers must approve to ensure school buildings can reopen with health protections and learning layouts in place for students and educators.
If they fail to act, school buildings will stay shuttered and America’s families will endure another academic year of at-home learning—with potentially disastrous consequences for student achievement and emotional well-being.
The analysis costs out an additional $116.5 billion for instructional staff, distance learning, before- and after-school care, transportation, personal protective equipment, cleaning and health supplies, health staffing, custodial and cleaning staff, meeting children’s social and emotional needs and additional academic support for students. The average school will need to see an extra $1.2 million, or $2,300 per student, to open its doors.
That is in addition to funds needed to offset revenue losses and address the cuts that have already cost local education systems 750,000 jobs, twice the number lost during the Great Recession. The House included $57.9 billion in the HEROES Act, but more is needed, the report shows.
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing on “Returning to School Safely,” chaired by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), will meet virtually and is expected to discuss strategies for reopening. However, the Senate has yet to consider either the HEROES Act or the possibility of a new round of fiscal stimulus.
The committee convenes as states, cities and school districts prepare to enact the largest budget cuts since the Great Recession, with state shortfalls approaching a half-trillion dollars. If no new federal money materializes, states will be forced to make hundreds of billions in cuts to education—the exact opposite of what is required.
AFT President Randi Weingarten said: “This is a five-alarm fire. Since late April we have been exploring ways to safely reopen school buildings in the fall. Our children need it, and our families deserve it. Our educators want it, and the economy won’t recover without it. But if schools can’t get the money they need to safely reopen, then they won’t reopen, period.
“These numbers show the sheer scale of the effort required, and the fact that neither the Senate nor the president has begun any negotiations on the HEROES Act is astounding to us. America’s teachers are sending an SOS because we know that if we don’t return to face-to-face learning, a generation of students will be added to the coronavirus casualty list.
“America is facing a triple crisis: a health pandemic, a racial justice crisis and an economic crisis—and they’re all interrelated. Public schools are centers of their communities and essential to repairing our nation’s fraying social fabric. And the economy won’t recover fully unless school buildings reopen.
“If we fail to act, we’ll forfeit our future—and teachers are going to fight tooth and nail until the disastrous ramifications of doing nothing become etched in lawmakers’ minds.”
The full study is available here.