- Omer Erez
The Road to Reopening Schools
Education at all levels has been fundamentally altered in the last twelve months, as students and educators have floated between school shutdowns, remote learning, and hybrid learning for over twelve months. This unprecedented crisis left many families struggling all around. Around 20 million Americans lost their jobs due to COVID, and not even half of those are restored. With parents and children stuck at home, the government has been scrambling to find a way to recover our pre-pandemic world.
Most kids are learning through a completely online or hybrid model; the hybrid model allows students to go into school two to three days a week. However, minority and low-income students have been at a disadvantage in the increasingly virtual word. Lacking sufficient internet connection can cost students a major grade cut and a scarce comprehensive understanding of their schoolwork. According to Lauren Camera, writer for U.S. News, these low-income, minority students were already struggling to keep up and had lower chances of success in school before the COVID-19 outbreak. Now, these children are being kicked when they are already down, not having the financial or emotional support to recover anytime soon as they live in the communities that have been hurt the most by the pandemic. We can look to our own state, Massachusetts, as an example. Chelsea, Massachusetts, was hit the hardest by COVID-19, coming in at 756 per 100,000 COVID case rate. The average income in Chelsea is just $27,000. The average family size in Chelsea is 3.5. Meanwhile, the poverty line for a family of four in the United States is $26,500, which is extremely close to the Chelsea average income, where they are now struggling even more due to the pandemic.
As a part of Biden’s first 100 days as POTUS, he has begun to carry out a strategy to reopen schools safely. Much of his plan begins with providing the necessary funding needed for both K-12 schools and universities. The aid entails $130 billion for K-12 schools and $35 billion for universities. Biden hopes schools will use this money for things like personal protective gear and rapid testing for students, teachers, and other faculty. Furthermore, Biden wishes to provide $350 billion in state and local aid. This particular money will work towards closing the budget gap and preventing any more lay-offs, according to U.S. News. The final part of Biden’s released plan discusses FEMA Disaster Relief Fund. According to FEMA, “The Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) is an appropriation against which FEMA can direct, coordinate, manage, and fund eligible response and recovery efforts associated with domestic major disasters and emergencies that overwhelm State resources…” based on the FEMA website. The Trump administration had also worked with FEMA to provide monetary resources to states from the beginning of the pandemic. Despite this, U.S. News released a statement that Trump made states ineligible for reimbursement of any surplus spending regarding supplies for dealing with COVID-19 back in October of 2020. Biden plans to reverse this and fully reimburse schools for any reopening costs, as he desires to allow schools to have the freedom to provide their students and families with proper screening, testing, and tracing programs.
Considering the lengthy steps needed to take by schools in order to reopen for the fall semester, Biden’s plan faces extraordinary hurdles. COVID-19 still remains an omnipresent threat, meaning that schools must complete plenty of precautions before allowing their students back. For example, students riding the bus to school are known to be tightly packed into the seats. With COVID-19, schools must provide safe transportation, allowing for a safe, social-distanced ride to and from school. The Amalgamated Transit Union proclaims that about 55% of K-12 students use the bus to ride to school. This can be used to predict the immense amount of money needed to buy more school buses. Assuming this can be done, schools will need even more money to hire more school bus drivers. This is just one aspect that represents a snowballing of funds in order to reopen schools so fast.
The CDC published guidelines to the operation of schools during COVID-19. They outline steps needed to take in order to maintain an environment with the lowest risk, some risk, medium risk, higher risk, and highest risk. All these variations include different degrees of in-person/online classes, staggering of schedules, mixing of groups of students, sharing of objects in the classroom, using suggested guidelines for social distancing and masks, and scheduled cleanings. It seems as though the only feasible return to school is unique and should be shaped for each school individually through these levels of risk that the CDC presents.
Back in 1970, the government implemented Title X funding, a program to aid low-income families in their medical needs. The program is still funded today by $250 million every year. This is a great example when looking at the possible effects of bringing kids back to school, as Title X definitely impacted schools with low-income students as it provided access to many resources, granted STI education, and more. Yet, as the National Center for Biotechnology Information proclaimed, looking back at the effects of implementation of this program it is only successful within its small reach. This being said, its success rate is very low as more and more people apply for eligibility each year with no more funding available and with the government not willing to expand the available funds. In comparison to Biden’s plan to reopen schools, his program slacks sufficient funding to expand the program as is needed. The administration plans to use much more money than this Title X funding, which might promise a larger reach regarding the amount of people it will actually help, but, as seen with Title X, the amount of money needed is unable to be maintained for such a long time.
Biden’s plan to reopen schools has great intentions as it is giving the people what they want and supporting them throughout the way. However, it faces hurdles other than restrictions beyond COVID-19 in the form of monetary limitations. An approach with a longer timeline could be the best way to ensure all schools have sufficient funding and resources for reopening. This would allow for other systems in America to recuperate and adjust, prepare the Federal Reserve to lay out the monetary funds needed, and overall keep the spread of COVID-19 at bay.