Democrats attempt to rewrite history around school closings and reopenings amid learning loss

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White House officials and Democratic lawmakers have tried in recent days to reframe their stance on school reopening policies amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Democrats have argued that they still support returning students to in-person instruction and that President Biden’s massive $1.9 trillion reconciliation package in March 2021 helped facilitate the reopening of schools in nationwide, even though Republican-led states like Florida had managed to get students back into classrooms long before the Biden stimulus package.

On Thursday, the National Center for Education Statistics released a report showing that during the pandemic, American students’ reading skills fell to their lowest level in two decades and math scores fell for the first time ever.

“Let’s go back to where we were not too long ago when this president came into this administration: how badly the pandemic was handled – the response to the pandemic was; how 47% of schools were – in less than six months, our schools have gone from 46% — open — to almost all of them being open full-time,” the White House press secretary told reporters on Thursday, Karine Jean-Pierre.

“It was this president’s job and it was the Democrats’ job, despite Republicans not voting for the US bailout, $130 billion of which went to schools to get the breakdown, to be able to have the tutoring and – and the teachers and to be able to hire more teachers,” she added. “And that was because of the work that this administration did.”

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On Thursday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks to reporters.
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On Thursday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks to reporters.
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The US Rescue Plan (ARP) has allocated approximately $121.9 billion to the so-called Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER). The fund was designed to fund local plans in all 50 states, Washington DC and Puerto Rico to safely reopen schools and resume pre-pandemic school operations through mitigation efforts such as improving building ventilation.

Since March 2021, the share of public schools offering full-time in-person classes across the country has increased from 54% to 98%, according to the Department of Education.

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“I’m proud that when the Democrats took over a year and a half ago, the Democrats voted for the American bailout that helped our kids get back to school safely, making sure that our schools had testing and supplies and ventilation and the ability to make sure their kids could be safe in school,” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said in an interview with CNN on Sunday.

“Today virtually all the children are back in school,” she continued. “That’s what I’ve been focused on, making sure we’re providing the resources for our schools, so they can reopen safely and that’s what we have today.”

Students walk to class wearing masks in April 2021 in White Plains, New York.

Students walk to class wearing masks in April 2021 in White Plains, New York.
(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

However, states and local districts spent less than $15.6 billion, or about 12.7% of the funds granted to them under ARP’s ESSER program, according to a Fox News Digital analysis of Ministry of Education data. It’s unclear how much of the funds spent actually went toward COVID-19 mitigation efforts, as the ESSER program required schools to also use the money for “equity” programs.

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Additionally, schools in states that voted for former President Donald Trump in 2020 reopened 75% of the time while those that voted for Biden reopened 37.6% of the time during the 2020- 2021, according to the educational association The 74.

Democrats widely sentenced Trump and Republican governors like Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., for aggressively pushing to reopen schools in fall 2020.

“Floridians deserve science-based action from Governor Ron DeSantis,” Biden said ahead of the 2020 election. “As other great states continue to take strong, urgent, and sweeping action to stop the spread of COVID- 19, Florida didn’t.”

In March 2021, DeSantis accused Biden of serving teachers’ unions that opposed reopening schools.

“His goal should have been yesterday to get everyone back to school, but he can’t do that because he doesn’t want to upset the teachers’ union,” DeSantis said. “It is a pathetic failure of leadership not to stand up for these children and families.”

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Education Department data also showed that some areas that implemented the most school closures like Rhode Island, Nevada, New Mexico, Vermont, Wisconsin and Washington DC spent less. of 5% of the ARP funds received, but still enabled most students to return to in-person instruction. States like Florida and Texas where schools were already reopening when Democrats passed ARP used more than 10% of the funds received.

The federal government has mandated local districts to spend the funds in full by September 2024, but the Congressional Budget Office estimated in 2021 that the money would not be fully spent until 2028.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.



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