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Sunday, February 28, 2021

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Is there a more dreadful example of the political elites in the Democratic Party believing they are superior to middle-class Americans than their approach to opening our public schools? 

Those who have insisted that science and data must determine when schools open are not following the science and data. Our children deserve more than to become victims of ugly politics and bad policies.


First, let’s look at the ugly politics. Fairfax County, Virginia is as solid an example as any.

Until this month, the Fairfax County School Board rejected efforts to return students to in-person learning and pushed back on support from the Trump administration. Now, Superintendent Scott Braband personifies Democratic politicians and their like-minded cohorts when he states: “Our president (Biden) has asked for this, and we must come together now.” In Fairfax County, President Biden won nearly 70% of the vote versus then President Trump’s 28% share of the vote.

Further, according to Burbio’s K-12 School Opening Tracker, students in Republican-led states have, on average, 3 times more access to 100%, 5-day/week in-person learning as students in Democratic-led states.  Add to it almost 4 times as many children in Democratic-led states are 100% remote. 

Now, let’s turn to how ugly politics is causing bad policy. Last year’s CARES Act spending provided massive amounts of money to schools.  Yet, school districts are actually incentivized to keep schools closed to receive the maximum amount of funds. 

Here is one account.  In the Wisconsin State Senate District of this column’s coauthor, Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) have received $770 per student in federal COVID relief to date. They have been closed since March 2020 with no plans to reopen. The Elmbrook School district, also represented by the coauthor, has taken all the measures needed to create a safe learning environment has received just over $15 per student.  This is what happens when Congress votes on legislation that they do not take the time to read.

Past COVID Relief spending was based on Title 1 formulas, which are designed to assist districts with a higher number of students living in poverty. This is not a criticism of Title 1, just an explanation for how this can happen. We need future COVID relief bills to fund ideas, systems and procedures that fully open schools, sooner rather than later.

Parents are paying attention. Enrollment in public-school districts with exclusively virtual education was down 3% on average, according to a new Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty study. The reality is there are not enough non-public school options today to educate every student. 

To underscore the point, prolonged closure is creating its own set of problems, ones not only limited to learning.  We are not even addressing the additional help schools are going to require.  More counselors have to be hired to serve students with mental illness as suicide rates among teenagers continue to rise. Students will also need the right daily nutrition and safe activities outside the classroom.

In the short term, our country’s leaders must reward innovation. One idea to consider is for students living in a closed public school district. If there is room in other near-by districts, then students can be given a chance to attend school there. Federal and state funding would follow students to the public-school districts providing their education. 

Another idea is supporting educators in creating a summer school program on a level and quality never before seen.  An aggressive approach to summer school can mitigate educational decline and prove a huge benefit. A final idea is paying vaccinated classroom monitors a bonus for being in-person while teachers are broadcast into the classroom to teach. 

Douglas McArthur, a five-star general in the Army, is credited with saying: “Americans never quit.”  It’s an approach that has served us well. We simply need to keep ugly politics from causing bad policies.

• David Avella is Chairman of GOPAC and a veteran Republican strategist; Dale Kooyenga represents Wisconsin’s 5th Senate District


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