Jan Resseger writes here about the almost complete lack of leadership at the national level–and even at the state level–in protecting our children in the midst of an ongoing pandemic. The failure of Congress to agree on federal aid for cities and states is a glaring example of indifference to the health and well-being of children and families and teachers. The breakdown of negotiations between Nancy Pelosi and Steven Mnuchin can be attributed to Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell, who don’t want to see any aid go to blue states and cities. This is tragic because the victims are children.

She writes:

I do not remember a time when the wellbeing of children has been so totally forgotten by the leaders of the political party in power in the White House and the Congress. This fall, school district leaders have been left on their own as they try to serve and educate children while the COVID-19 pandemic continues raging across the states. School leaders are trying to hold it all together this fall at the same time their state budgets in some places have already been cut.

In Ohio, the COVID-19 recession is only exacerbating a public school fiscal crisis driven by a long history of inequitable school funding and the expansion of school privatization. On November 3, the school district where I live has been forced to put a local operating levy on the ballot simply to avert catastrophe. EdChoice vouchers, funded by a “local school district deduction” extract $6,000 for each high school voucher student and $4,650 for each K-8 voucher student right out of our school district’s budget. Although these students attend private and religious schools, the state counts voucher students as part of our per-pupil enrollment, which means that the state pays the district some of the cost of the voucher. In a normal year, there is a net loss because the vouchers are worth more than our district’s state basic aid, but this year the loss is even worse: In he current state budget, the Legislature froze the state’s contribution to the state’s school districts at the FY 2019 level. This means that the state is not allocating any additional funding to our school district to cover the new vouchers the state is awarding this year from our local budget. The Plain Dealer reports that our district will lose $9 million to the EdChoice vouchers this school year, and the school treasurer reports that 94 percent of all vouchers being awarded to students in our district are for students who have never been enrolled in our public schools. In essence, this means that across Ohio, the Legislature is forcing local school districts to pay for private and religious education.

This year, however, on top of the voucher expansion, COVID-19 has affected local school budgets across our state. Last spring, when the coronavirus shut down businesses and caused widespread layoffs, the Governor significantly reduced what the state had already promised to school districts in the state budget.  Across the state’s 610 school districts, over $300 million—which the school districts had been promised before the fiscal year ended on June 30—just didn’t arrive. All of this has created a fiscal emergency for school districts across Ohio.

Only the AFT and Randi Weingarten, she writes, have remained alert and warned of the dangers of Congressional inaction. But the party in power is not listening.