But the dead ends in Chicago and recent findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – which wrote that in-person learning leads to little dissemination of coronavirus as long as schools follow safety measures closely – creating an immediate flashpoint for the president, as well as potential political vulnerabilities.
“This is one of the many issues that are going to have starts and stops – and [it’s] a big challenge for [the White House]Conceded Steve Barr, a longtime Democratic activist and political agent and founder of a charter school organization in Los Angeles. Barr said he agreed with the White House’s demand for a big financial package, but stressed the new administration needed to refine its message and come up with detailed plans to convince lawmakers and the public to back it.
“They have to be able to sell it,” Barr added.
But selling it won’t be easy. Republicans are already criticizing the White House warning about reopening schools, suggesting it is beholden to teachers’ unions. They cite the CDC article as further evidence that the debate is over whether the reopening of K-12 schools is significantly contributing to the spread of the virus. And they cite the tens of billions of dollars Congress has already allocated to reopen schools as proof that the problem isn’t about money.
Privately, GOP agents believe they can drive a wedge between Biden, teachers and parents exhausted from months of school closures.
“It’s a very difficult political position the White House finds itself in, having to choose between their constituents in the teachers’ unions and a lot of angry parents,” said Jack Pandol, Senate Leadership spokesperson. Fund, a super PAC that supports Republican Senate candidates.
Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy reiterated his calls for in-person learning to begin immediately as members of Congress prepare to target Democrats on the issue.
“We definitely plan to go after people on this,” said Michael McAdams, a spokesperson for the Republican National Congressional Committee. “It is a politically toxic position for Joe Biden and the Democrats to deny science in favor of the teachers’ union and the millions of dollars their party benefits from.
A close White House ally pushed back against the GOP, saying it was “appalling and telling” that with many schools closed and thousands of deaths every day, “those who are making these unprecedented crises worse by standing on the path of resources that are desperately needed … already admit what is really important to them. “
Union leaders and Democratic officials on Capitol Hill, where Biden’s advisers are busy pitching their nearly $ 2 billion recovery plan, have pointed out schools are initially underfunded and claim the Republican side won’t Little recognizes the cost of distance learning. Schools must deal with the significant “learning losses” caused by the pandemic, they added, and the approximately $ 130 billion more schools are expected to receive from the Biden plan would go a long way in meeting those needs.
“Teachers know how important in-person teaching is, but we have to make it safe,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “Testing and vaccination, as well as masking and distancing, are essential, as are accommodations for at-risk educators. Unfortunately, the serious failures of the previous administration made our task more difficult than it should be. “
The political landscape around the reopening of schools has changed dramatically in recent weeks. During much of the pandemic, Democrats blamed the spiraling virus and resulting school closings on former President Donald Trump and his Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Both Many times hurry schools to reopen during the pandemic, even threatening to snatch funding of those who remained closed. But they have resisted the release of prescriptive federal guidelines on reopening schools or tracking Covid cases in classrooms.
Democrats at the time pointed to poll data that revealed broad skepticism about schools resuming regular in-person classes. They have also fought attempts by lawmakers in Trump and the GOP to put strings on money – like limiting funding to states that have reopened schools – by dismissing it as flawed education policy. Education groups and unions, meanwhile, complained about conflicting and vague federal guidelines.
The Trump administration, which has largely frozen the unions, has also been strongly criticized after politicians interfered with policies to reopen schools.
Now, however, Democrats must deliver for Biden. He has made reopening most K-8 schools in his first 100 days a top priority, and his team recognizes that they depend heavily on unions to help them achieve their goals. Biden also ordered education ministries as well as health and human services departments to develop new guidelines on how to safely reopen schools and track school closures across the country. . His Covid team has underscored the need for widespread immunizations for teachers, testing materials and contact tracing support.
So far, at least, Biden and his team have stood close to the union position and made sure to consult with their leaders. Several teacher union officials were part of the Biden transition agency review teams. Two staff members of the National Education Association were appointed last week to managerial positions in the Ministry of Education. And Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease official, is expected to hold a fireside conversation with union officials Thursday night to discuss the vaccine rollout.
The level of collaboration is “quite unlike anything we’ve ever had,” said Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association.
“We’ve had comments before, but I absolutely expect that we will continue to have those comments,” Pringle said in an interview. “And I have no doubt that he will get his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, to contribute when she finishes teaching her class at the end of a day.
Weingarten also informed White House officials of the dispute between teachers and school officials in Chicago, the country’s third largest district. And after describing his discussions with the president to the Chicago Sun-Times, Biden has weighed in this controversial fight by apparently supporting the concerns of Chicago teachers.
“The teachers that I know – they want to work,” Biden said. “[W]We need to make the classrooms safe and secure for the students, for the teachers and for the help that is in these schools that maintain these facilities. “
One of the next major developments in reopening schools could come when the Biden administration releases new CDC recommendations on how and when schools should operate during the pandemic. Biden, on his first full day in office, ordered federal agencies to coordinate the development of “evidence-based advice” for schools, colleges and child care providers. But these updated recommendations will likely add new fuel to the debates raging across the country about how to handle school reopens.
At the White House on Wednesday, press secretary Jen Psaki said she would not embark on hypothetical scenarios about what Biden would do if Congress refused to follow through on the stimulus request.
“No one wants to have a conversation in May or June about why schools aren’t reopening,” Psaki said, revisiting the need to embrace the fundraising program.
But Pringle said much of the complexity and nuance of the science behind reopening schools has been lost as the issue becomes a hot topic of political discussion.
“We’re already seeing people quote the CDC saying, ‘The CDC said it’s safe for the kids to go back to school,’ Pringle said, ‘and they don’t read the rest of the sentence,’ this which emphasizes that this is only true if mitigation strategies are rigorously followed.