Educators Tell Congress COVID-19 Leaves Schools Vastly Underfunded

June 16, 2020 by Tom Ramstack

WASHINGTON — School administrators cautioned Congress Monday about underfunding education as the COVID-19 epidemic takes a big bite out of government appropriations.

They said many schoolchildren already are falling behind in their studies while they face a likelihood of fewer teachers and bigger classes in the fall.

About a half-million teachers have been laid off since the epidemic started spreading widely in the United States earlier this year, Rebecca Pringle, vice president of the National Education Association, told the House Education and Labor Committee.

Another two million face layoffs in the next couple of years without large subsidies, she said.

“This would be devastating to students that are in schools that already are under-resourced,” Pringle said.

She testified during a hearing to help Congress decide whether to allocate more money to schools as lawmakers consider another round of funding for the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act.

The federal law was intended to help the U.S. economy withstand the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic and business shutdowns. The original $2 trillion bill Congress approved in late March included a half-billion dollars in direct payments to Americans and about $508 billion in low-interest loans to industry.

More than $30 billion went to schools, largely to keep teachers on their payrolls. Now the money is running out, prompting educators to ask for more. The nonprofit Education Trust estimates their profession needs at least $175 billion in relief funds for public schools nationwide to operate near normal levels.

Many Republicans warn that the deficits Congress is creating with bailout funding could create worse consequences than any short-term benefits.

“It is irresponsible to throw more money” at the problem of school funding, said Virginia Foxx, R-N.C..

The result would be a “further burdening taxpayers,” she said.

School children typically start forgetting their lessons within weeks after school lets out for the summer, which is known as the “summer slide,” said House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Robert Scott, D-Va..

“This year the summer slide started a few months earlier than usual,” he said.

A common strategy for the roughly 90% of the nation’s public schools that shut down to slow the spread of COVID-19 was to switch to virtual learning through the Internet.

However, educators and lawmakers agreed Monday at the hearing that virtual learning is a poor substitute for classroom teaching.

“All of the studies are showing that virtual learning has failed to provide an adequate education to our kids,” said Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind..

A proposal circulating in some districts for the fall semester is a hybrid model in which students switch periodically between in-person and remote learning.

However, Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., said that in rural areas, “There are some districts where as much as 50% of the students do not have access to broadband.”

The lack of Internet access is greatest for many low-income minority students, according to the educators.

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