June 22, 2020

Senators Hassan, Shaheen Call for Additional School Funding as Teachers, Students, and Families Prepare for the Fall

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) joined Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and additional colleagues in calling for at least $175 billion for the Elementary and Secondary Education Relief Fund in any future COVID-19 relief package. The pandemic has led to massive revenue shortfalls for state and local governments, which means K-12 schools may face severe budget cuts while also working to adequately prepare for either in-person or remote learning (or some combination of the two) in the coming academic year.

 

“There can be no economic recovery in either the short term or the long term unless we make the investments necessary to safely reopen schools and ensure continuity of education during the ongoing pandemic,” the Senators wrote.  “If schools are unable to reopen safely, it will be nearly impossible for many parents and caregivers to return to work. Moreover, the long-term consequences of sustained educational disruption could also hold this generation back, affecting students’ quality of life and weakening our nation.  We must take urgent action to ensure that schools are ready and able to educate children this fall and redouble our efforts to close opportunity gaps that are far too prevalent in the communities suffering the greatest health and economic harm from the impact of COVID-19.”

 

The Senators also addressed new challenges that schools face. “This upcoming school year will be like no other,” the Senators wrote. “School districts will need to redesign the school day and be prepared to switch to distance learning as necessary. There will be new protocols for sanitation, transportation, and staffing. Schools will have to reengineer the use of space in and around the school building and reconfigure classrooms to ensure that social distancing can be maintained. More critically, they will also need to increase their capacity to support children’s well-being – including nutrition, health screenings, and mental health supports – whether in person or at a distance.  One thing is certain, school is a lifeline for children in the communities hit hardest by the pandemic and the ensuing economic fallout. School must be there for them.”

 

Senators Hassan and Shaheen have worked to support students and teachers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Senators announced $82 million to support New Hampshire schools, colleges, and universities as part of the bipartisan CARES Act. The Senators are also calling for greater support for students who experience disabilities in upcoming COVID-19 response legislation. Senator Hassan recently held a virtual roundtable with New Hampshire teachers on upcoming challenges, and during a Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing, raised the importance of additional funding to schools.

 

Senators Hassan and Shaheen have also participated in numerous virtual classes while students were engaged in remote learning. The Senators are cosponsors of legislation that would help ensure all K-12 students have adequate home internet connectivity and devices during the COVID-19 pandemic. Senators Shaheen and Hassan also called for increased federal funding for schools and school employees, such as cafeteria staff, bus drivers and custodians, who are working overtime to support their communities during the pandemic. Earlier this month, Shaheen sent a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos demanding that the Trump administration immediately revise a directive distributed in April that defies the CARES Act with regard to federal funds provided for services for private school students.

 

Full text of the letter follows:

 

Dear Leader McConnell and Leader Schumer:

 

There can be no economic recovery in either the short term or the long term unless we make the investments necessary to safely reopen schools and ensure continuity of education during the ongoing pandemic.  If schools are unable to reopen safely, it will be nearly impossible for many parents and caregivers to return to work.  Moreover, the long-term consequences of sustained educational disruption could also hold this generation back, affecting students’ quality of life and weakening our nation.   We must take urgent action to ensure that schools are ready and able to educate children this fall and redouble our efforts to close opportunity gaps that are far too prevalent in the communities suffering the greatest health and economic harm from the impact of COVID-19.  As such, we ask that you include at least an additional $175 billion in dedicated funding for the Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief Fund that was established under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

 

This upcoming school year will be like no other.  School districts will need to redesign the school day and be prepared to switch to distance learning as necessary.  There will be new protocols for sanitation, transportation, and staffing.  Schools will have to reengineer the use of space in and around the school building and reconfigure classrooms to ensure that social distancing can be maintained.  More critically, they will also need to increase their capacity to support children’s well-being – including nutrition, health screenings, and mental health supports – whether in person or at a distance.   One thing is certain, school is a lifeline for children in the communities hit hardest by the pandemic and the ensuing economic fallout.  School must be there for them.

 

We are counting on schools being able to deliver these services.  Yet we know the resources are not there.  State and local governments are reeling from the loss of revenue due to the economic shutdown caused by the pandemic.  A recent report from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities estimates $765 billion in state budget shortfalls over the next three years.  School districts across the country are issuing layoff notices in anticipation of budget cuts.  Even if schools were able to maintain current levels of staffing and financial resources, it would not be enough to meet the challenges of the upcoming academic year.  AASA, The School Superintendents Association, estimates that the average additional COVID-related cost per student will be $490, which for the average school district of 3,700 students amounts to $1.8 million.  A recent analysis from the Learning Policy Institute estimates that the national financial impact of increased costs and decreased state and local education revenues could be nearly $230 billion.  

 

The federal government must step in with a comprehensive plan to support the reopening of schools and continuity of education for our children.  Such a plan would stabilize state and local budgets, ensure equity in access to technology and broadband, enhance nutrition services, ensure sufficient testing and contact tracing to control the spread of the virus, and expand the reach of our cultural agencies such as the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities to enhance school offerings and support continued learning in the community.  However, the central feature of the plan must be substantial dedicated resources for our public schools to meet the additional costs and to address the additional needs of students during this time of public health, economic, and social crises.  As such, we urge you to provide at least an additional $175 billion for the Elementary and Secondary Education Relief Fund in any future coronavirus relief package.

 

Thank you for your consideration of this critical request. 

 

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