With psuedo-science spearheaded by teachers unions favored by the Biden administration over the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) January recommendation to fully re-open America’s schools, eight Republican senators want to get students back inside the classroom.
On Wednesday, Feb. 3, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) introduced the Put Students First Act of 2021.
“Now that leading health experts at the CDC are recommending that America’s schools be reopened as soon as possible if precautions are taken, teachers unions are fighting to stay out of the classroom,” Rubio said in a statement. “Instead, they want to hold our students hostage for more federal funding despite Congress already having provided tens of billions of dollars for public K-12 schools. There is no substitute for in-person learning, and now the science is confirming that it can be done safely.”
The bill includes a prohibition of federal education funds for K-12 schools that fail to reopen properly, which would effectively force some institutions that already received COVID-19 relief and fiscal-year 2021 money to return the funds.
Once returned to the government, “states in which schools closed for in-person learning would have fifteen days to submit a plan to the Department of Education,” with a comprehensive plan on how the money can be put toward “school choice options,” according to a press report from Rubio.
However, if schools do not provide an in-person or hybrid experience, the prior funding would be allocated to the states that maintain “the highest percentage” of schools offering in-person experiences. Essentially, this would incentivize states to stay open, or else risk losing federal aid.
Tillis alluded to the need to prioritize facts over partisanship with re-opening. “The science is clear: our students, especially those who have special needs or live in underserved communities, will continue to face substantial learning loss and will not be able to receive crucial supportive services….”
While campaigning, President Joe Biden said he wanted to open schools within his first 100 days. Yet in office he has proposed a $130 billion stimulus bill for K-12 schools that would not address the issue.
The plan includes $130 billion for K-12 schools, allocated toward equipment and protective gear intended to continue extremely strict in-person precautions, if even such institutions actually decide to open at all given the clear message being sent. By denying the statistics concerning youth transmission, his administration misses the point completely.
The CDC made clear in their extensive January report that “there has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increase community transmission.” They also cited the fact that 11 school districts with 90,000 combined students and staff in North Carolina opened during fall 2020 for nine weeks—which nevertheless resulted in a mere 32 infections and zero student-to-staff transmission.
The CDC also conducted a study among 4,876 students and 654 staff in Wisconsin on Jan. 26, finding only 191 COVID-19 cases. Of these 191 cases, only seven actually came from in-school, as opposed to community-transmission.
“President Biden’s own CDC director agrees that we can safely open our schools—and we should. This is a matter of emotional and academic development and the mental health of our kiddos, as well as the well-being of our working families,” Ernst said in a statement.
According to CDC data, children ages 14 and younger are more at risk from the seasonal flu than from COVID. The risk to high-school and college-age young people is also near zero.
Teachers unions have been among the chief opponents of reopening schools while still paying teachers to work less or not at all. According to a report done by the Center on Reinventing Education at the University of Washington, 75 percent of urban districts refused to offer any in-person learning.
In California, school boards have largely failed to reach timely agreements on when to open up. Worst of all, the dominant teachers union in Chicago defied the city’s strategized reopening plan in January and forced students to remain home. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, teachers instead organized a march and protest.
Rubio published a hard-hitting op-ed in Fox News on Tuesday, Feb. 2, lambasting teachers’ unions for raking in tax dollars, while failing to adequately do their job and promote the development of students.
“If the national teachers’ unions and their local affiliates in Chicago, New Jersey, California, and elsewhere really wanted to follow the science, they would be working with local governments to open our schools right now, not demanding more taxpayer dollars,” he wrote.
As each state handles the pandemic differently, it is clear that many on the left are swift to ignore the statistically low chances of students first contracting the virus, and then dying. The new bill proposed by Republican senators aims to get the educational system in America back on track.
The Put Students First Act of 2021 is four pages and can be read here.
Gabe Kaminsky is an intern at The Federalist, and an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh. His work has appeared in The Daily Wire, Townhall.com, The Washington Times, The American Conservative, RealClearPolitics, The Washington Examiner, and other outlets. He is a participant in the Academy program at The Heritage Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @Gabe__Kaminsky.