In a national roundtable on reopening schools, NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer Philippe Abraham Thursday pointed to a fact that is often overlooked during this time of the pandemic: The lingering effects of the 2008 recession were still stifling public education when the COVID-19 crisis happened. By 2020, he said, 20 states were still spending less on schools and 41 were spending less on colleges than they were before the recession.
“Pre-COVID was inequitable to begin with, and the current situation exacerbates the inequity,” he said during an online roundtable with Dr. Jill Biden, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, and other AFT leaders. Hosted by AFT President Randi Weingarten, the online event drew more than 185,000 viewers.
“We need the federal HEROES Act that will help stabilize state and local governments that have been negatively affected,” he said. “The pandemic has laid bare what was occurring before, and now we have it full blast.”
While we await the Governor's decision on the future of New York's schools, one thing remains clear: If schools are expected to reopen safely, they will need more financial resources. The HEROES Act—which would provide desperately-needed help for working people and hard-hit states like New York—was approved by the U.S. House by a vote of 208 to 199 back in May... but it has been stalled in the Senate ever since.
“It is impossible to overstate the urgency of this stimulus package,” Abraham said.
When critics say it is too expensive to comply with science-based safety guidelines, Abraham said, the only proper response is: “How much is a life worth?”
Weingarten organized the conversation with Dr. Biden, an educator whose husband is the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, Sen. Warren and AFT leaders on issues related to reopening schools.
“While we planned this virtual roundtable a few weeks ago, Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos’ reckless actions this week made it even more timely,” Weingarten said. Joe Biden, Jill Biden and Elizabeth Warren, unlike Trump, want to hear from educators on what we need to reopen schools safely, she said.
Other AFT leaders in the discussion included Fed Ingram, of the Florida Education Association, Jerry Jordan, of the Philadelphia FT, and Melissa Cropper of the Ohio FT.
As Weingarten said, keeping students and teachers safe is a top priority. Reopening schools requires a plan and resources. Educators are working to make sure that the Senate passes the funds we need to reopen safely AND that districts collaborate with educators to meet both educational needs and health and safety best practices.