Texas education officials unveiled a confusing patchwork of school reopening guidelines this week, underscoring just how complicated a task it will be to reopen schools with the state in the grips of the coronavirus pandemic.
With the coronavirus outbreak dramatically worsening in Texas and parents understandably skittish about sending their children back to the classroom, Gov. Greg Abbott announced last week that schools in the state could remain shuttered this fall.
But the message from the federal government has been just the opposite: On Tuesday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos demanded all schools this fall be in-person, echoing a tweet from her boss, President Donald Trump.
Meanwhile the Texas Education Agency appeared to split the difference: When they return to the classroom next month, teachers have to be able to juggle both the technical demands of remote as well as in-person instruction, with all the social distancing, temperature-taking and other health and safety protocols that the latter approach demands.
The only way to do it all is with increased federal funding. But Congress appears poised to repeat a grave mistake that it has made many times before, drastically underfunding the educators who need more resources than ever during the coronavirus outbreak.
The U.S. Senate has been reluctant to take up the HEROES Act -- the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions legislation -- a House-passed coronavirus bill that includes funding to stabilize child care and K-12 education. The Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act (CCCERA) introduced by Senator Patty Murray would also provide much needed relief to K-12 education and early childhood education systems, but was unable to pass in the Senate.
Labor and education advocates say that the additional funding, while vitally needed, only scratches the surface in helping teachers fulfill the vital roles we’ve come to rely on them for. Teachers unions in Texas are even calling on the state to delay reopening until the state gets its coronavirus outbreak under control.
When they get back to work, teachers will need to address trauma and social emotional learning needs stemming from the pandemic and will be asked to make up the deficit for months of learning that did not happen after hurried school closures in the spring.
They also will have to integrate into their teaching expensive new equipment and distribute new technological devices to each individual student, in addition to other responsibilities like administering screenings and assessments, connecting students to resources like language instruction for English learners, special education, and the like.
Congress’ planned funding comes nowhere near to making any of this possible. The HEROES Act provides only partial funding to stabilize child care and a fraction of funding for K-12 schools that advocates say is needed.
To support educators, education advocates are urging lawmakers to invest some $175 billion to stabilize state public education budgets and maintain the current teaching workforce. An additional $25 billion is needed to fund the federal programs that support students from families with low income, and students with additional learning needs such as special education students.
Another vitally important measure, the Emergency Connectivity Fund, will also need $4 billion to ensure that students have access to broadband internet for virtual learning.
As lawmakers prepare in the coming weeks to weigh another stimulus package in the coming weeks that could provide additional education funding, let’s listen to teachers to ensure that they have everything they need when they return to the classroom -- virtually or in-person.
Fiddiman is a senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress. Her experience includes advocating for policies that increase educational opportunity and access to a high-quality education for all students.