Schools Need Federal Guidelines + Investment

July 16, 2020

Schools are critical centers of support—providing healthy food, health services, emotional support and community connection, not to mention education. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed just how crucial our education system is to students, parents and society as a whole. There will be no full economic recovery if our education system can’t reopen.

Let’s be clear: We want schools to be open. We want children to be able to have healthy meals and get needed healthcare and continue their education. But we don’t want students and school staff to be in schools that endanger their health and the health of their families.

And schools cannot reopen safely without strong federal guidelines and significant federal investment.

President Trump has publicly disagreed with the school reopening guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) because they are “very tough” and “expensive.” Although the agency initially said they would update the guidelines, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield has now said they will remain the same. President Trump’s blatant willingness to jeopardize the health of our children is a moral outrage. Instead of threatening to weaken health standards and take punitive action against states and school districts that do not reopen, President Trump should urge Congress to provide the resources that schools need to open safely.

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) estimated that schools need $158.1 billion and $244.6 billion to safely reopen. The CARES act provided a modest $13.5 billion. Another $58 billion in new funding for K-12 schools is included in the HEROES act that recently passed the House. Combined, that’s still less than half of the lower end of the CCSSO estimate.

For too long, we have grossly underinvested in schools, especially schools in low-income communities of color. Just take a look at our country’s crumbling school facilities. A recent report estimates that more than half of schools need multiple building updates. And according to the National Association of School Nurses, more than one in four schools don’t employ a school nurse.

While education is compulsory for kids in this country, the federal government’s financial contribution is modest. Most education funding comes from states, which rely on local property taxes to fund schools. This is an inherently inequitable funding model that results in higher levels of funding for schools in affluent communities. For example, in 2015, the U.S. Department of Education found that in Illinois, the poorest districts spent 17 percent less per pupil than the richest districts.

Instead of supporting schools, President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are espousing the dangerous idea of cutting federal funding for schools that don’t fully open. While federal funding is a relatively small portion of overall school funding, schools need more money—not less.

The current situation is unacceptable and unsustainable.

We call on the administration to take this threat to our nation’s education system seriously and make the investment our schools and children need. We ask that you join us and raise your voice to ensure the health and wellness of students now—and in the future.