This post will propose a GRAND BARGAIN for reopening the schools.

There is a great demand to reopen the schools for the sake of the economy, and there is great resistance to reopening the schools due to fears about the safety of children and staff.

Parents and teachers are worried that if schools open too soon, they won’t be safe. Students won’t be safe if classrooms are crowded. If students don’t wear masks, they will be in constant confrontations with teachers. How do you keep very young children six feet apart? What about safety measures to protect the staff? These are all genuine problems.

What makes this entire discussion surreal is that Congress and the Trump administration have thus far refused to pass legislation that would send the aid needed to help schools reopen safely and help local and state governments cope with drastic reductions in revenues due to the shutdown of the economy.

Some states are planning to cut school funding by large amounts. They are willing to lay off teachers and support staff, including nurses. Under these conditions, schools cannot possibly reopen safely and should not.

A few states, like California, plan to hold the school budget where it is, with no cuts.

But to reopen, schools need MORE funding. They must reduce class sizes drastically to have safe social distancing. Depending on room sizes, classrooms should have no more than 10-15 students. To do that means hiring MORE teachers.

The Council of Chief State School Officers has estimated that it will require up to $244 billion in additional federal aid to reopen schools safely. It might be even more. If that is the cost of reopening schools and reopening the economy, it is a price worth paying.

Since the federal government has failed to take the lead in controlling the pandemic, the number of cases of coronavirus continues to rise, unlike the EU or Canada or many other nations. Where the virus is still rising, as in Texas, Florida, Arizona, and other states, schools cannot open safely.

But where the virus has been contained, schools can act on reopening plans only if they are adequately funded.

The only way to reopen schools safely, whether in the fall or months later, is by a dramatic increase in the budget so that there will be enough staff to protect the health and safety of the children, the teachers, and other staff.

Schools will need to hire additional nurses and health aides to monitor the temperature and health of everyone in the school as well as psychologists and social workers to aid students who have suffered trauma in recent months.

Some advocates of distance learning think it should become “the new normal,” but the past few months has demonstrated that not much learning is going on, that students are bored and long to be with their friends and teachers, and that distance learning is at best only a temporary fix.

Parents, business leaders, and everyone concerned about reopening the schools and the economy should together demand that the federal government provide whatever funds are needed to reopen schools safely so parents can return to work knowing that their children are safe. It may or may not happen in September, and there will be regional and local variations, depending on whether the coronavirus has been controlled.

But whenever it happens, the highest priority must be the safety and well-being of children and school staff.

It will not happen safely without a massive increase in funding from the federal government.

It should not happen until that funding has been approved.