February 04, 2021
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Roy Blunt (Mo.), Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, and Tim Scott (S.C.) introduced a budget amendment that would withhold additional supplemental funding from schools that do not reopen for in-person learning after teachers have had the opportunity to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
“The evidence is clear: school closures are hurting students,” said Senator Blunt. “Prolonged remote learning is putting kids at higher risk of falling behind, failing classes, and suffering from mental health problems. That risk is even greater for students with disabilities and students in underserved areas. Public health professionals, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, have said we should follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and get kids back into classrooms. The science confirms schools can and should reopen safely. Unfortunately, despite President Biden’s pledge to reopen schools within his first 100 days, the administration is bending to the will of politically-connected teachers unions. Congress has made in-person learning a priority, providing $67.5 billion for K-12 schools to reopen safely. Doing what is right for kids should be an area where we can reach bipartisan agreement. I urge all of my colleagues to join us in supporting this amendment.”
“Keeping our nation’s students out of the classroom for a year is permanently injuring the educational aspirations and opportunities of an entire generation,” said Senator Scott. “The children most negatively impacted are those who are growing up poor, just like I did. While teacher unions and their allies continue to change the rules as we go, we must be clear: if you have been vaccinated, it’s time to get back into the classroom.” The Blunt-Scott amendment would create a deficit-neutral reserve fund prohibiting COVID-19 related emergency relief to K-12 schools that do not reopen for in-person learning after their teachers have received COVID-19 vaccines. The text of the amendment is available here.
A study released in December by McKinsey & Co. looked at the toll prolonged remote learning has taken on K-12 students, especially students of color. According to the report, the “cumulative learning loss could be substantial, especially in mathematics—with students on average likely to lose five to nine months of learning by the end of this school year. Students of color could be six to 12 months behind, compared with four to eight months for white students. While all students are suffering, those who came into the pandemic with the fewest academic opportunities are on track to exit with the greatest learning loss.”
Last July, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine said reopening schools should be a priority, especially for younger grades and students who have special needs.
In addition to the academic setbacks, remote learning has led to an increase in the mental health challenges facing students. According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mental health problems accounted for a growing proportion of children’s visits to hospital emergency rooms, up 31% for kids between ages 12 and 17 and 24% for kids between ages 5 and 11 compared with the same period in 2019.
The ability of schools to safely return to in-person learning is backed by science. This week, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said “vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools.” Walensky’s comments follow a previous CDC report that found, “With masking requirements and student cohorting, transmission risk within schools appeared low, suggesting that schools might be able to safely open with appropriate mitigation efforts in place.”
In the COVID emergency funding bills that have been signed into law, Congress has provided a total of $113 billion for education, including $67.5 billion for getting K-12 kids back to school safely.