Covid-19 School Closures Reignite Political Jockeying Ahead of Midterms

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Republicans see Biden’s education record as providing an opening with voters; Democrats say GOP opposed relief funds for schools last year

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Democrats respond that they are personally committed to education, citing the COVID-19 relief fund they unanimously passed GOP opposition and insisting that most schools fulfill a pledge made by President Biden last year. Did. They say the many canceled school days and changes to distance learning resulted from staffing issues due to illness, in contrast to the 2020-21 school year, when unions clashed with local leaders over safety protocols.

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In recent days, the Iowa Republican Party has sent out a fundraising email asking people to chip in $10 or more right now to “stand up with state Republicans and help keep our schools and communities open.” Having said.” Republicans are also targeting Democrats in competing House districts, including Rep. Alyssa Slotkin in Michigan. A recent fundraising email from the campaign arm of House Republicans asked: “Will Alyssa Slotkin demand that schools reopen?”

Families that rely on free lunch programs and the benefits provided by schools may miss school closures, which “create an opportunity for Republican candidates to reach those communities … Be people who haven’t historically voted for Republican, give them a second chance. Look,” said GOP adviser Jason Roe, who is advising State-Sen. Tom Barrett, Ms. Slotkin’s Republican rival.

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Ms Slotkin said most of the closures in her area are due to staff shortages and positive COVID-19 tests. She added that “while we all need to follow CDC guidelines in those cases, we need our state and local governments to do everything in our power to keep our schools open and safe.”

Democrats currently control the House 221 to 212, and Republicans are seen as a strong chance to take back the chamber, with President Biden’s approval numbers weighing on the party. Along with about a half-dozen competitive gubernatorial races, the Democratic-controlled 50-50 Senate is also up for grabs.

Across the country, more than 5,200 schools have shifted to distance learning or at least closed for a day, according to data company Barbio Inc. Most of the school closures were due to Covid-19 cases among staff, said Barbio, which tracks K-12 school closures in districts across the country. One notable hope was Chicago, where public schools closed after teachers’ unions stopped providing in-person instruction amid a standoff with city leaders over COVID-19 protocols.

Last year education emerged as a major issue in some competitive races. Mr Youngkin won the Virginia race after campaigning in schools, tapping into the sentiments of some parents, that he had been left out of race decisions in curriculum, COVID-19 precautions and academic standards.

“It allowed us to be competitive in an area where Republicans aren’t normally competitive,” said Devin O’Malley, a Republican strategist who advised Mr Youngkin’s campaign.

Democrats say their comprehensive policy is on track: vaccination is now available to teachers and students, and the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief law passed in March 2021 includes $130 billion in funding for schools. It paid for reducing the size of the class, improving ventilation, and gave an additional $10 billion for testing.

“That money went to the states. And states and school districts spend this money well–many of them. But, unfortunately, some did not,” Mr. Biden said this week. “So I encourage states and school districts to use the money you still need to protect your children and keep schools open.” have to do.”

Mary Wall, senior policy adviser on the White House COVID Response Team, said this is a top concern for the president, noting that when Mr Biden took office, 46% of schools were open. This percentage rose to 99% in December.

“It’s very difficult to argue that this is not a priority for the president,” she said.

“Joe Biden Said He Was Going To ‘Shut Down The Virus’,” tweeted Sen. Rick Scott (R., Fla.). All he has done is shut down our schools,” referring to a campaign promise.

It is not known how long the current surge of cases will last or how widespread the disruption will be. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its COVID-19 Quarantine and Isolation Guidance, Relax Isolation and Quarantine Guidelines for K-12 schools. The CDC also favors a “test-to-stay” model in which students and staff can test frequently in lieu of quarantine.

American Federation of Teachers President Randy Weingarten said Republicans’ need for a renewed focus on school closures was driven by the need to divert attention from supporters of former GOP President Donald Trump to the anniversary of the January 6 attack on the Capitol. He appreciated the assistance sent from Washington, but said more needed to be done to address the teacher and bus driver shortage.

“I think where Democrats go wrong, they don’t succumb to the frustration of parents and teachers”, Ms Weingarten said. “People are hurting,” she said.

Mr Biden has close ties with teachers’ unions, top donors to Democratic groups that will support candidates this fall. Ms Wall said the unions were one of many stakeholders with whom the administration is engaged, including school superintendents and principals, among others.

Representative Tom Emmer of Minnesota, chairman of the House Republican campaign branch, called on Democrats to back donations from teacher unions.

Democrats pointed fingers at Republicans for opposing vaccine mandates and other steps designed to contain the virus, and reiterated that Republicans did not vote in March for pandemic aid money for schools.

Patty Murray (D., Wash.), chairman of the Senate Education Panel, said, “It’s kind of rich that they’re going after someone about not keeping schools open anymore.”

Write Natalie Andrews at [email protected] and Katherine Lucy at [email protected]

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