HARRISBURG, Penn. — Educators are calling on Congress to provide emergency funding to help public schools closed by the COVID pandemic reopen safely.
Schools in counties in the ‘yellow’ and ‘green’ phases of reopening soon will be resuming in-person instruction and activities. But the economic impact of the pandemic means local school districts in the Commonwealth could be facing a combined shortfall of $1 billion for the coming school year.
Pennsylvania State Education Association President Rich Askey pointed out that, from social distancing in classrooms to enhanced cleaning procedures and personal protective equipment, schools will need more funding — not less.
“We’re urging Congress to invest $175 billion in education nationwide, and they need to do this before they go on summer recess,” said Askey.
Last month, representatives of prominent education associations in Pennsylvania released a report outlining steps needed to safely reopen the schools.
The report estimates that trying to manage the crisis by cutting school budgets could mean the elimination of up to 40,000 jobs in education in the state.
But Askey noted that students haven’t been in school since last March, and that has had an impact.
“We’re going to need to deal with social and emotional wellness with these kids,” he emphasized. “We don’t need fewer counselors; we need more counselors. We don’t need fewer nurses; we need more nurses.”
He added that split schedules, or combined classroom and online learning to maintain social distancing, will require more teachers as well, and said state lawmakers also need to step up and do their part to make sure that children, teachers and staff stay safe as schools reopen.
As Askey put it, “Finding out what their local constituents need, working with the governor, working with the Department of Education, to make sure that there is clarity across the board on procedures and how to open schools.”
He emphasized that reopening schools safely needs to be a priority, because going backward is not an option.