What does Covid-19 Relief Funding Mean for Children?

As the new year begins, we are once again facing school closures, resulting in thousands of students missing out on valuable in-class instruction. The cause of these closures is said to be the inability to manage the new Omicron variant, but schools are yet to demonstrate lack of funds as reason for not implementing measures to safely reopening. So, what other than politicians and teachers unions are holding them back?

Congress has already appropriated $180 billion in federal relief funding to assist states in opening schools, keeping schools open, and addressing the achievement losses for students. The COVID-19 federal relief funds could and should have been used toward mitigation, protection of students for future viruses, and preventative strategies to help make schools safe. Rather than spending like Milwaukee where there are plans to spend $24 million on Social Emotional Learning and an additional $100,000 for Anti-racism and Bias Professional Development .

After all, our Nation’s children are the ones who suffer the most from school closures. The most common cause of learning loss is missing school. The term learning loss refers to “any specific or general loss of knowledge and skills or to reversals in academic progress, most commonly due to extended gaps or discontinuities in a student’s education.” Missing school days impedes skill improvement and leads to a reduction in the learning levels of students. The pandemic’s effect on student learning is severe and sadly, data shows that minority children are disproportionately impacted by schools closures and learning loss.

States did receive some guidance on the appropriate use of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) federal funds. For instance, local education agencies are required “to implement evidence-based and practitioner-informed strategies to meet the needs of students related to COVID-19.” Multiple examples exist about how districts are spending these dollars. Unfortunately, at the federal government’s direction, many of them are using funds to propagate race based policies  oriented around political activism instead of reopening in person or addressing learning loss. The ARP actually requires school districts to reserve 20 percent of funds for “evidence-based” interventions that “respond to students’ academic, social, and emotional needs,” including anti-racist therapy and disrupting whiteness. So, rather than using funds to ensure the safe reopening of schools, the Biden Administration is propagating Critical Race Theory.

Many states have spent COVID-19 relief funds on purchases that have little to do with learning loss or reopening. Chicago has reported earmarking $32 million of federal funding to develop a Curriculum Equity Initiative, and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) voted yesterday to “refuse anything but a return to remote learning.” The CTU leadership stated that they would not return to work unless the city meets union demands for more testing, on-site vaccination clinics, and ventilation.

California is spending $1.5 billion on training resources for all staff on accelerated learning, restorative practices, and implicit bias training. Massachusetts is planning to hire race consultants to provide agency-wide anti-racism training and create a culturally responsive, anti-racist, and welcoming school environment.

A Whitewater, Wisconsin school district voted to allocate almost 80 percent of their $2 million from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) grant to build synthetic turf fields for the football team. The athletic director argued that he did not think the district would approve a local referendum for the football fields. The school board thus chose to spend American taxpayer dollars intended to assist with projects related to learning loss and the impact of COVID-19 on athletic facilities.

Parents and students deserve greater transparency on the use of these federal funds.

Some districts and schools have developed solid plans for using funds focused on strategies to address student achievement. Arkansas and Tennessee are creating tutoring programs to address learning loss. Kentucky is drafting guidance on the most effective tutoring programs and implementing small group instructional opportunities for students. North Dakota is introducing free tutoring for math, SAT, and Advanced Placement preparation. The San Bernadino Unified School District is partnering with AM LLC to hire COVID-19 liaisons at each school to organize contact tracing, quarantines, pandemic communications, and testing. The district chose to spend $12 million from the federal relief funding for the additional support.

States have a responsibility to put the needs of their students first. The acts of CTU clearly prioritize politics over learning, and that is disheartening. It is irresponsible for States to spend funds on items unrelated to COVID-19. Children are the future of America; investing these one-time funds into their education is an investment in the country’s development. The America First Policy Institute team is focused on putting American Children First.

Governor Phil Bryant serves as a Senior Advisor for the America First Policy Institute and Mr. Scott Turner serves as Chair of the Center for Education Opportunity for the America First Policy Institute. 

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