Archives for category: Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos wants schools to open. She wants to help Trump win re-election. Trump wants schools to open so the economy will restart. DeVos claimed that children don’t get sick from the virus, so they won’t spread it. She thinks they might even be a brake on the virus. The Washington Post gave her claims a fact check.

The Fact Checker wrote:

“More and more studies show that kids are actually stoppers of the disease and they don’t get it and transmit it themselves, so we should be in a posture of — the default should be getting back to school kids in person, in the classroom.”

— Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, in an interview on “The Conservative Circus” (iHeart radio), July 16

Our eyes popped out when we first heard this comment by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, as she pressed the administration’s case for reopening schools in the fall with in-person classes.

Could children actually be “stoppers” of covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus? That would be great news — if true. The interruption of school threatens to create a learning deficit — and many parents may find it difficult to return to work if children are not in classes.

Let’s examine DeVos’s evidence that children do not transmit the coronavirus, as it appears to be influencing administration policy. President Trump echoed her claim in a news briefing Wednesday evening. “They do say that [children] don’t transmit very easily, and a lot of people are saying they don’t transmit,” he said. “They don’t bring it home with them. They don’t catch it easily; they don’t bring it home easily.”

The Facts

An Education Department spokesperson supplied four reports from around the world:

American Academy of Pediatrics: Evidence suggests that children don’t contract or spread the virus the way adults do, in contrast to how they spread influenza.

New South Wales, Australia: Eighteen infected people who had contact with nearly 900 people resulted in only two additional infections, with “no evidence of children infecting teachers.”

France: An infected 9-year-old in France came into contact with 172 people while attending three ski schools, and none of them — not even the child’s siblings — appeared to contract the virus.

Saxony, Germany: A study (in German) found no evidence that schoolchildren play a role in spreading the virus, with a researcher quoted in a news report as saying that “children may even act as a brake on infection.”
“We’re mainly looking at the German study — one of the people who helped run it is the one who first said that kids can act as ‘brakes’ on virus transmission,” the Education Department spokesperson said.

Well, there’s a problem with that. The German study has not been peer-reviewed; it is still in preprint review by the Lancet, meaning it should not be used to guide clinical practice.

Moreover, the German researchers told The Fact Checker that the results do not apply to a country such as the United States, where infections have been soaring. Germany, by contrast, is among the countries that are considered to have handled the outbreak with skill and diligence, keeping infections per million people relatively low.

“Our results depict a situation with low infection rates after the initial transmission peak is under control,” Jakob Armann, a pediatric infectious-disease specialist at University Children’s Hospital in Dresden and co-author of the study, said in an email. “If you have rising infection rates — as in the United States currently — putting people in close contact will obviously lead to transmission of respiratory viruses as SARS-CoV-2.”

The key, he said, is to get the situation under control, as most Europeans countries have. Then “there is a way to safely reopen schools and schoolchildren are not ‘hidden’ hotspots of transmission.”

Reinhard Berner, Armann’s colleague, made the “brake” comment, but Armann said his quote was “widely exaggerated through in the media.” (The phrase does not appear in the study.)

“The point he was trying to make is that these findings are in contrast to the earlier assumptions that children will spread the virus to a much higher degree than adults,” Armann said. “We are not trying to argue that children do not spread the virus at all, and you are absolutely right that in high-infection communities, children will get infected and will transmit to close contacts.”

It’s easy to find studies and news reports that contradict DeVos’s assertion:

South Korea: A large study using contact tracing found that children ages 10 to 19 can spread the virus at least as much as adults do; children younger than 10 were half as likely to transmit the virus, but there was still a risk.

Israel: At least 1,335 students and 691 staff members contracted the coronavirus after Israel reopened its entire school system without restrictions on May 17, believing it had beaten the virus. The spike in infections among the children spread to the general population, according to epidemiological surveys by Israel’s Health Ministry. As of mid-July, 125 schools and 258 kindergartens have been closed because of infections. (One study suggested that the disease spread quickly at a high school, affecting more than 260 people, during a heat wave, when mask rules were suspended and air conditioning was in constant use.)

In the United States, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 241,904 child coronavirus cases were reported as of July 16, with children representing 8 percent of all cases. There was a 46 percent increase in child cases from July 2 to July 16, although mortality remains low, with 24 states reporting no child deaths so far.

Although there have been relatively few deaths of children — fewer than 70, according to state reports — about 3.3 million adults ages 65 and older live in a household with school-age children, according to a July 16 analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation. That’s about 6 percent of all seniors in the United States, who have a greater chance of becoming severely ill from the virus if a child becomes infected.

Michael T. Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, said that too often people have latched on to studies that later turn out to be flawed. “There have been so many studies, sometimes with strident conclusions, only to be blown out of the water later” when conditions change, he said. “The bottom-line message is that school-age kids will see transmissions. How much is unclear, but they definitely are not brakes.”

After we communicated the response from the German researchers, we received this statement from the Education Department: “The science remains on the side of reopening schools, even at the highest levels of the medical field. As the Secretary has said, we have to think about the impact on the whole child if schools continue to remain closed. In addition to a quality education, students need the peer-to-peer interaction, access to mental health care, and nutritious food that schools provide. As she has said previously, decisions on schools fully reopening will need to be made on case-by-case basis depending on the local health situation, and the goal should be fully reopening in the fall.”

The Pinocchio Test

As a Cabinet secretary, DeVos has a responsibility to provide accurate information to the public. It’s easy to pick and choose medical studies to assert a political point. But it’s irresponsible to mainly rely on a news account of a report that has not even been peer-reviewed yet — and that concerns a low-infection environment not yet applicable to the United States.

There is evidence that children may not get as sick as adults, and younger children especially may not transmit the virus as easily. From an educational perspective, certainly it would be better to provide in-class instruction than to continue remote learning. But to claim that children actually may stop the spread of the disease shows a stunning lack of due diligence.

DeVos earns Four Pinocchios.

A group of civil rights and education organizations have filed suit against Betsy DeVos, who seeks to divert public funding to private schools. Say this for DeVos: She is maddeningly consistent in her efforts to fund private schools. Whether authorized or not, she presses forward on behalf of the private school sector. She doesn’t care about public schools or their students. She wants them to open in the middle of a pandemic without regard to safety of students or teachers.

DEVOS SUED BY PUBLIC SCHOOL PARENTS, NAACP, AND SCHOOL DISTRICTS TO BLOCK ILLEGAL RULE THAT DIVERTS CRITICAL COVID-19 AID FROM PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO PRIVATE SCHOOLS

A rule issued by the U.S. Department of Education this month coerces school districts to use an illegal process to inflate the amount of federal COVID-19 aid they must share with private schools. The rule will drastically diminish the resources available to support public school children and historically underserved student populations during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a lawsuit filed today by public school parents, districts, and the NAACP. The lawsuit seeks to block the rule.

The lawsuit, NAACP v. DeVos, explains that the rule imposes illegal and harmful requirements on the emergency relief funds allocated to public school districts under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Under the rule, school districts must divert more funding for “equitable services” to private school students than the law requires or face onerous restrictions on the use of those funds in their public schools. Both options violate the clear language and intent of the CARES Act and will undermine district efforts to adequately serve students who desperately need services and supports due to the impacts of the pandemic.

The CARES Act directs public school districts to calculate the amount they must set aside for private schools based on the number of low-income students enrolled in private schools. However, DeVos’ rule forces school districts to comply with one of two illegal options, either: (1) allocate CARES Act funds for private schools based on all students enrolled in private school, which includes students from affluent families, or (2) allocate these funds based on the number of low-income students at private schools, but face severe restrictions on how the rest of the district’s CARES Act funds can be used, including a prohibition on their use to serve any students who do not attend Title I schools.

The rule was first introduced in April as non-binding guidance from Secretary DeVos and received widespread criticism from education leaders and lawmakers that the guidance violated the CARES Act and would leave districts without resources essential to address the impacts of COVID-19. Several state attorneys general have also filed suit to challenge these new rules.

“Amid a national health crisis, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is robbing public school children of desperately needed relief and diverting it to private schools,” said Derrick Johnson, president and CEO, NAACP. “This is a new low, even for an administration intent on promoting inequality in education. Children and families across the nation are facing unprecedented risks to their safety and educational opportunities. COVID-19 has magnified the hardships for children from low-income households and diminished access to quality instruction, digital technology, nutrition, social development, and other vital resources. These are consequences that will last a lifetime.”

“Forcing districts to spend even more funding on private schools exacerbates existing inequities in Arizona,” said Beth Lewis, Title I school parent and teacher in the Tempe Elementary School District and cofounder of grassroots advocacy group Save Our Schools Arizona. “Our public schools have been defunded for decades and already lose hundreds of millions of dollars to private schools via vouchers every single year. Secretary DeVos’s binding rule forces our neighborhood schools to give desperately needed federal aid to private schools that have already accepted small business bailouts. Meanwhile, Title I public schools like mine have to rely on local charities and donors to help us feed students and stock classrooms. This rule will harm the students and families who need resources the most.”

“Secretary DeVos’ new rule is plainly illegal because it violates the clear language and congressional intent of the CARES Act,” said Jessica Levin, Director of the Public Funds Public Schools campaign, a collaboration of the organizations that represent the plaintiffs in the case. “The impact on students and schools will be severe, as the rule shows complete disregard for the reality that public schools need increased resources as they continue to serve 90% of our nation’s students during this incredibly challenging time.”

The coronavirus pandemic has focused the nation’s attention on the essential role public schools play in the lives of families and communities. Since closing buildings in March, public schools across the country have worked tirelessly to maintain instruction and provide students with meals, access to technology, health services, and social and emotional supports. Public schools now need more – not fewer – resources. Yet, Secretary DeVos continues to exploit the pandemic to promote her political agenda of funneling taxpayer dollars to private schools.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are represented pro bono by the law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson, LLP, as well as Education Law Center (ELC) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), all of whom collaborate on Public Funds Public Schools.

Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
Education Law Center
60 Park Place, Suite 300
Newark, NJ 07102
973-624-1815, ext. 24
skrengel@edlawcenter.org

As we have seen in recent weeks, Trump and Betsy DeVos want public schools to reopen for full-time, in-person instruction. Yesterday, in an interview with Chris Wallace of FOX News, Trump reiterated that he will stop federal funding of any schools that don’t comply. He said that children don’t get the virus and they don’t die from the virus. He said nothing about the vulnerability of educators. Wallace pointed out that most federal funding Is earmarked for poor children and students with disabilities but Trump was adamant that schools must reopen fully or face his wrath. He has offered no funding for making schools safe for Reopening, and he has abdicated any responsibility for federal leadership. He said in the same interview, when asked whether people should wear masks as public health experts advise, that mask-wearing was a decision for governors and individuals.

It seems like only yesterday that Trump and DeVos were cheerleaders for online learning, as Politico points out.

President Donald Trump’s newfound disdain for online education is a sharp departure from what his administration and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have long championed in terms of policy on virtual learning.

As he presses schools and colleges to physically reopen their doors this fall, Trump has dismissed online learning as an acceptable strategy that local education leaders can employ as they face surging coronavirus cases in many parts of the country.

“Now that we have witnessed it on a large scale basis, and firsthand, Virtual Learning has proven to be TERRIBLE compared to In School, or On Campus, Learning,” Trump said in a tweet last week. “Not even close! Schools must be open in the Fall.”

In events and media appearances over the past several weeks, the White House and administration officials have repeatedly insisted that the nation’s schools and colleges must physically reopen classes — and that online instruction, fully or partially, isn’t an appropriate alternative. They’ve threatened to use federal funding as a lever to prod schools into physically reopening.

The Trump administration has been clear that it’s concerned that schools remaining closed would be a drag on the economic recovery that the president is banking on ahead of the November election. “If we don’t reopen the schools that would be a setback to a true economic recovery,” Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser said this week.

Trump blasted Los Angeles school officials earlier this week for a “terrible decision” to keep the nation’s second-largest school district online-only when classes start in several weeks. Many other large school districts across the country are also defying Trump’s demands to physically reopen.

“It’s not a matter of if schools should reopen, it’s simply a matter of how,” DeVos has repeated several times in recent weeks as she’s become a main spokesperson for the Trump administration’s push to reopen schools. Schools, she has said, “must fully open and they must be fully operational.”

But the Trump administration’s focus on in-person instruction in traditional school buildings is a stark change for DeVos, who has long been an ardent proponent of virtual schools and individualized digital learning options for students.

As secretary of Education, she has also taken action to promote online instruction in both K-12 schools and higher education, steering money and grants toward digital learning options and scaling back federal regulations in order to promote distance education.

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DeVos last year traveled the country on a “Rethink Education” tour in which she repeatedly called for education leaders to question longtime assumptions about what K-12 and higher education looks like — which she noted hasn’t changed much in several centuries.

“It’s past time to ask some of the questions that often get labeled as ‘non-negotiable’ or just don’t get asked at all,” DeVos said during a 2018 speech. Among them: “Why do students have to go to a school building in the first place?”

DeVos also touted “high-quality virtual charter schools” as “valuable” option during her confirmation process. She and her husband previously were investors in K12 Inc., one of the nation’s largest virtual school companies.

This speedy reversal has left boosters of online learning confused and dismayed.

To add to the confusion, DeVos continues to promote online higher education.

The New York Times wrote about Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ sudden turnaround, from champion of local control to heavy-handed advocate of federal threats to reopen schools regardless of local conditions or wishes. Those quoted in the story are DeVos allies, which makes sense, since they must feel a sense of betrayal.

*Keri Rodrigues of the Walton-funded National Parents Union; she was a leader of the battle in Massachusetts for more charter schools, which was overwhelmingly defeated in a state referendum.

*Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a prominent voice for charters, vouchers, and high-stakes testing, issues quite far from the interests of the 85% of U.S. students who attend public schools.

*Sarah Carpenter of the Walton-funded Memphis Lift, which is highly critical of the local public schools; several low-performing Memphis public schools were turned into charters and handed over to the Achievement School District, but experienced no gains over five years.

*Ubiquitous conservative pundit Frederick Hess.

DeVos’s allies are surprised to see her depart suddenly from her conservative principles.

Supporters of public schools must be even more surprised, but for different reasons.

DeVos has repeatedly denounced and demeaned public schools and their teachers. She has sung the praises of online learning, which she now finds inadequate. (Her mentor Jeb Bush is still predicting that online learning is the future, even though most parents and students have had their fill of it.)

Most likely, Trump’s campaign consultants told him that this was a winning issue for him, and Betsy is falling into line, denouncing the distance learning and home schooling that she usually celebrates, and insisting that students must return to their brick-and-mortar public schools for full-time instruction.

We have learned, to our great surprise, that Betsy, like Donald, has no fixed principles.

Eileen Sullivan and Erica L. Green of the New York Times managed to get a copy of an internal (secret) report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that warned of the dangers of opening schools without adequate protection of students and staff.

WASHINGTON — Federal materials for reopening schools, shared the week President Trump demanded weaker guidelines to do so, said fully reopening schools and universities remained the “highest risk” for the spread of the coronavirus.

The 69-page document, obtained by The New York Times and marked “For Internal Use Only,” was intended for federal public health response teams to have as they are deployed to hot spots around the country. But it appears to have circulated the same week that Vice President Mike Pence announced that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would release new guidelines, saying that the administration did not want them to be “too tough.” It is unclear whether Mr. Trump saw the document, nor is it clear how much of it will survive once new guidance is completed.

(The cover page of the document is dated July 8, 2019, an obvious typographical error since the novel coronavirus did not exist then.)

What is clear is that federal health experts are using a road map that is vastly different from what Mr. Trump wanted.

While it is mostly a compilation of C.D.C. documents already posted online, it includes reopening plans drafted by states, districts and individual schools and universities. And the package, from the Community Interventions and Critical Populations Task Force, is pointed.

In a “talking points” section, the material is critical of “noticeable gaps” in all of the K-12 reopening plans it reviewed, though it identified Florida, Oregon, Oklahoma and Minnesota as having the most detailed.

“While many jurisdictions and districts mention symptom screening, very few include information as to the response or course of action they would take if student/faculty/staff are found to have symptoms, nor have they clearly identified which symptoms they will include in their screening,” the talking points say. “In addition, few plans include information regarding school closure in the event of positive tests in the school community.”

And its suggestions for mitigating the risk of school reopenings would be expensive and difficult for many districts, like broad testing of students and faculty and contact tracing to find people exposed to an infected student or teacher.

The debate about school reopenings comes as the virus is spreading at its fastest pace yet across the country, a trend some attribute to states reopening prematurely this spring on a timeline encouraged by Mr. Trump. Now some states are pausing their reopening plans and in some cases reimposing restrictions to contain the spread. Schools in California have had to cancel their plans for in-person classes as the virus surges..

And as Mr. Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos were trying to pressure local schools to comply with their reopening vision, the document was expressly saying the federal government should not override local judgment.

“These C.D.C. considerations are meant to supplement — not replace — any federal, state, local, territorial, or tribal health and safety laws, rules, and regulations” with which schools must comply, the packet states in bold lettering. “Implementation should be guided by what is feasible, practical, and acceptable and be tailored to the needs of each community…”

“This is the document we needed six weeks ago,” said Daniel A. Domenech, the executive director of the AASA, the School Superintendents Association, calling it “concise, accessible and actionable.”

“While it is a great resource for superintendents as they navigate the myriad issues they need to address as they work to reopen schools,” he said, “it is also a great communication tool, a resource that can be shared with the community to help account for decisions being made and to share reliable, science-based information.”

Since May, the C.D.C. website has cautioned that full reopening would be “highest risk,” and that in both K-12 and higher education settings, the more people interact, “and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of Covid-19 spread.” The “lowest risk,” the guidelines say, would be for students and teachers to attend virtual-only classes — an option the administration this week began a full-court press against.

All week, the Trump administration has been raising the pressure on schools and universities to reopen with in-person education. On Monday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that international students whose colleges went fully online would have to transfer to a school offering in-person classes or leave the country.

By Wednesday, Ms. DeVos had publicly chastised a public school district in Fairfax County, Va., for offering parents a choice of in-person classes two days a week or fully online instruction. The department and the president said they were exploring options for using federal funding as leverage to force full reopening.

That Wednesday, Mr. Trump rejected the C.D.C. guidelines, calling them “very tough & expensive” on Twitter. Then Mr. Pence announced that the C.D.C. would issue new recommendations next week. “We just don’t want the guidance to be too tough,” he said.

On Friday, after repeating threats of cutting off federal funding from schools that do not fully reopen — which he does not have the authority to do — Mr. Trump lashed out again.

“Now that we have witnessed it on a large scale basis, and firsthand, virtual learning has proven to be TERRIBLE compared to In School, or On Campus, Learning,” he wrote on Twitter. “Not even close! Schools must be open in the Fall.”.

You may recall that when Betsy DeVos was interviewed by the Senate when she was confirmed, she sang the praises of virtual schools, despite the copious research that shows the deficiencies of online charter schools. Now she and Trump are insistent that schools must reopen fully for in-person instruction, five days a week, without the money to provide the safety protocols that the CDC recommends. In effect, they are urging the highest possible risk for students in K-12 and in colleges and universities.

What becomes clear is that they want students in schools so their parents can go back to work and jumpstart the economy. They don’t care about the risks to lives. For them, reopening the schools is a political necessity. Neither of them recommend appropriating the funds to make students and staff safe. If schools don’t reopen, or reopen only partially, they can conveniently blame the “greedy,” “selfish” teachers unions for keeping schools closed. They accept no responsibility to comply with the CDC guidelines.

Betsy DeVos said on CNN that schools need not follow the CDC guidelines.

The CDC guidelines for schools to reopen contain steps to keep children safe, including keeping desks placed six feet apart and for children to use cloth face coverings. The CDC suggests the closing of communal areas like dining rooms and playgrounds and the installation of physical barriers like sneeze guards where necessary.

“There is nothing in the data that would suggest that kids being back in school is dangerous to them,” DeVos said, when asked by Bash if she can assure parents and students that schools will be safe and pressed on health guidance that says children are at highest risk when meeting in full-sized, in-person classes — doubling down on a similar comment she made last week.

Trump and Pence has admitted that they pressured the CDC to water down the guidelines to make it easier for schools to reopen. So far, the CDC has not done so.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Bash later in the program that CDC guidelines should be a requirement and called DeVos’ comments on schools being safe for students a “malfeasance and dereliction of duty.”

“This is appalling,” said Pelosi, a California Democrat. “The President and his administration are messing with the health of our children. We all want our children to go back to school. Teachers do, parents do and children do. But they must go back safely.”

Just today, the nation’s leading education groups–the National Education, the American Federation of Teachers, the American Association of School Superintendents, as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics, called for schools to reopen safely, safely, safely, and calls on the Administration and Congress to provide the necessary resources for reopening safely to be possible.

Donald Trump Jr. tweeted a few days ago that his father wants “open schools and closed borders,” while his opponent Joe Biden wants “closed schools and open borders.” Opening the schools without the funding to make them safe is a demagogic and dangerous tactic in the midst of a pandemic that still is out of control in many states.

If Trump and DeVos want schools to reopen for full in-person instruction, Trump should tell Mitch McConnell to bring the Senate back into session to pass the HEROES Act and demand all the funding necessary to make schools and colleges safe.

The American people need to know that Trump and DeVos want the schools to open fully with no safeguards in place for students or staff.

That’s wrong. It should not happen.

Two states—Texas and Florida—are moving forward to open their schools for five-day, in-person instruction, even though the rate of coronavirus infections in both states is rising.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has demanded that schools across the nation restart and become fully operational, although she has no power to force schools to reopen when local officials believe it is unwise and unsafe. She and Trump are trying to force schools to open as if there were no pandemic and no risks to students and staff. They think that opening schools will be good for the economy and help his re-election. It’s hard to see how it will help his standing in the polls if the pandemic continues to spread and claims more victims.

DeVos made a point of praising Florida Commissioner Richard Corcoran (former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives who has no background or qualifications in education and has expressed his desire to totally voucherize every school in the state) for ordering every school to reopen fully in mid-August.

As reported in Education Week, Corcoran left a loophole:

Corcoran’s Monday order says that, when they reopen in August, “all school boards and charter school governing boards must open brick and mortar schools at least five days per week for all students.” But those decisions are “subject to advice and orders of the Florida Department of Health, local departments of health” and other state orders.

Calling on schools to open “at least five days per week for all students” seems to eliminate the possibility of hybrid remote learning plans that have been among the most popular models for districts around the country. While the Trump administration has not clarified what exactly it expects from schools, DeVos has criticized hybrid plans as inadequate.

The school boards in Palm Beach County and Miami-Dade have announced that they will seek exemptions and continue remote or hybrid programs rather than reopen fully.

Texas has been promoting reopening, but local boards and teachers in hard-hit areas of the state are resisting.

The Trump administration has been citing the American Academy of Pediatrics as its justification for forcing schools to open, but AAP President Sally Goza pushed back and said that schools should not reopen without the financial resources to do so safely.

She told NPR that the AAP does not support rigid state mandates:

“We will be sticking to what our guidelines say —that if it does not look safe in your community to open schools, that we need to really have that looked at. We also need to make sure that schools have the needed resources to reopen safely so that a lack of funding is not a reason to keep students home, which we’re hearing in a lot of communities—to do what we’re asking people to do to make schools safe is not really financially feasible in some of these communities.”

Leading Democrats in the House control the federal government’s appropriations. They have the power of the purse, given to the House of Representatives by the Constitution (do Donald and Betsy know that?). They have a message for Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos: Bo bullying.


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 9, 2020

CONTACT
Katelynn Thorpe (DeLauro), 202-225-1599
Bob Schwalbach (Sablan), 202-309-5787

Chairs DeLauro and Sablan Respond to Trump Administration’s Threats to Defund Public Education

WASHINGTON, DC – Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT-03), Chair of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, and Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (CNMI), Chair of the Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education and Labor Subcommittee released the following statement on the Trump Administration’s threats to defund public education if schools do not fully reopen:

“The Trump administration attempting to utilize desperately needed relief aid to bully schools into prematurely opening is shameful and reckless. Once again, this administration is prioritizing its political agenda over the health and safety of our nation’s children. Congress has not and will not grant the administration the authority to withhold federal funds from local school districts that are following the advice of health experts to safely reopen. Any forthcoming relief package will require the administration promptly and faithfully deliver this aid to public schools.

“We refuse to allow the president or Secretary DeVos to take advantage of a global pandemic to dismantle public education. Parents, teachers, and health experts want schools to reopen safely, and House Democrats are working to invest the resources needed to do just that.”

Call on Congress and Governors to supply the funding to reopen our schools safely!

Don’t open schools where the pandemic is raging.

Protect the lives of students and staff!

Trump and DeVos demand that schools reopen in full, in-person, on time in a few weeks, even as they block the resources needed by schools to protect students and staff from the pandemic that is raging across the nation.

Districts in which there are few or no COVID infections may choose to reopen if they have the resources to do it safely.

But in states and districts where the disease is still rampaging and where schools do not have adequate resources, reopening is dangerous.

Trump and DeVos have threatened “financial sanctions” against schools that don’t open for in-person instruction. Instead of pressuring schools, they should be fighting the spread of the disease. They could start by wearing masks themselves.

Not only are they blocking the additional funding needed for smaller classes, social distancing, personal protective equipment, and additional nurses, they demand that all public schools open despite the dramatic budget cuts and layoffs that fiscally-challenged states will impose on schools.

Matt Barnum wrote in Chalkbeat about the administration’s efforts to force schools to reopen:

Meanwhile, Trump and DeVos downplayed public health concerns connected to opening up schools, despite rising national case numbers. Trump tweeted that he disagreed with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — part of his own administration — which has issued guidance for schools around social distancing and school hygiene. “They are asking schools to do very impractical things. I will be meeting with them!!!” Trump wrote.

In other words, Trump is bullying the CDC to water down its safety guidance for schools. We already have seen federal officials equivocate for fear of Trump’s wrath. Dr. Deborah Birx said nothing when Trump urged the public to ingest disinfectants, even though it would be fatal to anyone who tried it. Just a few days ago, the head of the Federal Drug Administration was asked on CNN if he agreed with Trump’s claim that 99% of COVID cases are “totally harmless.” He refused to disagree with Trump’s patently false statement.

Thankfully, the CDC just announced that it won’t bend to political pressure to weaken its guidelines for reopening schools.

The death of any student or teacher or staff member at a school that opened too soon will be on Trump, Pence, and DeVos.

We are in the midst of a fierce pandemic, and there is no national leadership calling on us to rise to the occasion, wear masks, protect ourselves and others by following the advice of scientists. Everyone is on their own. We are adrift and rudderless.

As much as parents long to have their children in real schools with real teachers, as much as teachers long to be in their classrooms, it is not safe to reopen schools wherever the disease is active.

IT IS NOT SAFE TO REOPEN SCHOOLS IN THE MIDDLE OF A PANDEMIC THAT IS OUT OF CONTROL.

Stay home. Continue distance learning. Demand that our elected officials exercise leadership and require quarantines, masks, social distancing, and whatever else is necessary to curb the pandemic.

What is the life of a child or a teacher worth? How many lives will be sacrificed to open schools in the midst of a pandemic?

Safety first. Life first. Only when it is safe for children and adults alike should schools be reopened. It is not safe now.

Trump has made clear that he wants federal funds to flow to private and religious schools if any new aid is approved to help public schools reopen. DeVos and Trump will use any opportunity to push federal money to religious schools.

The Supreme Court’s decision in the Espinoza case, which ruled that any state that aided private schools had to provide aid to religious schools, has encouraged Trump and DeVos to push harder for federal funding of religious schools.

Thus far, the Democrat-controlled Appropriations Committee in the House has blocked all such requests by DeVos and Trump.

President Donald Trump will ask for a “one-time, emergency appropriation” for a new grant proposal, according to an outline of the plan obtained by McClatchy. The grants would be provided to states to distribute to nonprofit institutions that disburse scholarships to qualified students who want to attend non-public schools.

“I have never heard a single, compelling persuasive reason as to why somebody is against Education Freedom Scholarships, opportunity scholarships, school choice, charter schools. And the reason is this: we’re trying to give these kids just another opportunity and provide their parents with another option,” Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, told McClatchy.

The White House is seeking to have 10% of the amount that Congress approves for state and local educational agencies set aside for the grants. Trump will also seek approval of $5 billion in federal tax credits for businesses and individuals who donate to the scholarship programs.

The Trump administration has been promoting school choice initiatives for weeks as a way to provide educational opportunities to children in underserved communities and get money to help financially struggling private and Catholic schools before the new school year.

Read more here: https://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/politics-government/white-house/article243956302.html#storylink=cpy