‘It’s too late’: Stimulus can’t save schools from a chaotic start

The stimulus plan in the works on Capitol Hill will come too late for the start of the school year in much of the nation, adding to the chaos in an education system already thrown into disarray by the global pandemic.

Lawmakers are still haggling over the details of the package that would deliver a historic sum for education, as districts throughout the country prepare to kick off the school year. Education leaders are already spending money on stockpiles of face masks, computers kids can use to connect to classes at home and training for educators still learning how to make the most of teaching from afar.

But districts have no certainty from Congress about how much cash they can expect to rain down from a final stimulus deal or what rules will be attached to that money.

“It’s too late to get resources to people or schools that are starting in August,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, a union that called this week for its 1.7 million members to consider “safety strikes” as “a last resort” if negotiations over reopening schools don’t meet their demands.

In many public school districts, the fall semester starts in less than two weeks. Classes are already underway in others.

Dithering politicians are to blame, Weingarten said, for schools that will begin with no in-person learning despite improving trends in the spread of coronavirus in some parts of the country. “So when people keep saying that they need to go on ‘remote,’ initially, it’s not just because of safety concerns — it’s because of resources,” she said.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who chairs the Senate committee that writes education policy, said “the whole purpose” of the stimulus funding congressional leaders are trying to negotiate is to ensure “schools can open safely with as many children physically present as possible.”

“So the sooner the better,” said Alexander, pointing out that many schools in the South are “beginning right away” with in-person learning and no delay in starting the fall semester.

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