Across the nation, public schools desperately need a cash infusion to deal with the economic crash caused by the pandemic. They also need money to pay for all the enhanced cleaning and physical modifications that need to be done to bring kids back to classrooms.
U.S. Representative Debbie Mucarsel-Powell says schools also need a uniform set of standards, established by the Centers for Disease Control, to guide them in reopening instead of a hodgepodge of benchmarks varying from district to district.
“I understand the value of having our children back in school but I also know we have to keep them safe,” Mucarsel-Powell said this morning during a Zoom conference.
The Miami Democrat proposed a bill called the SCHOOLS Act, which would mandate the CDC to provide specific guidelines for schools to follow.
“It establishes the recommendations and the data needed to guide school reopening and actually provides educators with the tools and funding they need to keep one another and our children safe,” said Mucarsel-Powell, adding that a number of issues need to be considered.
“Like how do we handle school meals, how do we keep our students safely distanced while they’re learning in school, how do we send them to school and how many kids can fit in one bus, do we need more buses? Those are all the questions we need to find answers and get answers from CDC.”
The funding component is crucial, according to the superintendents of Miami-Dade and Broward County Public schools. The SCHOOLS Act provides $300-billion for public schools nationwide.
Broward superintendent Robert Runcie has been calling for at least $200-billion in federal funding. He supports the bill, saying, “That is absolutely necessary and appropriate. We need to treat our public schools as an essential priority for reopening our economy and providing critical social, emotional and academic development to children. It is the one investment that will generate the greatest return to getting us back to some real sense of “adjusted” normalcy.”
Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Carvalho has also been calling for federal funding. He, too, supports the bill, saying in 2008, the feds provided $110-billion to bail out public schools during the recession. Carvalho says this time, the crisis is worse and so far, the federal government has only allocated $14-billion so far.
“The federal government needs to take action to protect K-12 education,” Carvalho said. But the chair of the Florida Senate’s Education Committee, state senator Manny Diaz, says the SCHOOLS Act is an unnecessary political stunt.
“Florida schools have all the guidelines they need,” said Diaz, a Republican from Doral. “The Trump administration and President Trump has led on the fact that he wants to provide 100-million dollars or more to be able to bring kids back in person.”
Diaz clearly meant to say billion, not million, but either way, the money has not been allocated. The House and Senate are not even negotiating in Washington right now. The House passed its HEROES Act months ago, which contains $90-billion for public schools, but it has not been taken up for a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate.
So the SCHOOLS Act has little to no chance of ever becoming law, but there is a political statement to be made by either supporting or criticizing it.
Infectious diseases expert Dr. Aileen Marty supports the bill and points out that the COVID-19 positivity rate in South Florida is much higher now, and there are more hospitalizations in South Florida now compared to the situation in May.
“That means that the viral load in our community is considerably higher today than it was when we reopened the first time,” Dr. Marty said. “We cannot let down our guard, at all.”
The United Teachers of Dade president was on the Zoom conference in support of the bill. “We want to teach our students, we want to see them in person,” said UTD president Karla Hernandez-Mats.
“But we cannot do it if the conditions are not right and we don’t have the resources that we need, and this SCHOOLS Act addresses all those things.”
Monroe County School Board member Dr. Sue Woltanski, who is a pediatrician, also supports the bill. “It’s one thing to get accurate scientific guidelines but if the funding does not come to the schools and if we can’t enact it, you know we can’t McGyver our way out of this,” she said.