The beginning of a new school year is always a time of excitement for teachers, parents, and especially students as they look forward to reuniting with friends, meeting new challenges, and settling back into a routine of study. This year, because of the coronavirus pandemic, the usual anticipation has been mixed with a sense of anxiety.
Our elected officials in Washington could do enormous good to ensure our children, teachers, and staff have the resources they need to sustain our schools through this pandemic. Both the Senate and the House have proposed tens of billions of dollars more for education. But after more than two months, no agreement has been reached, and a political stalemate continues. The result is the education and well-being of all schoolchildren suffer.
Here in the Archdiocese of New York, our school administrators have done tremendous work preparing for a new model of in-person and remote learning, prioritizing safety but recognizing the importance of getting our children back in the classroom. We’ve had a safe and successful opening with almost all of our students and teachers present. The parents I’ve heard from tell me how much they appreciate the innovative steps our schools took this past March when they had to pivot to online learning and how impressed they are with the steps our schools have taken to prepare for this year.
What’s missing so far, though, is a commitment from many of our elected officials to providing the desperately needed emergency assistance to ensure that all school facilities are safe, that all students and staff have the personal protective equipment and educational resources they need, and that direct assistance is available to help tuition-paying families with the cost of a religious or independent school should they determine such a school to be the best fit for their child.
At the end of the last school year, we had to announce that 20 of our outstanding Catholic schools would not reopen this fall. Understandably, many parents, having suffered losses of income and uncertainty over what the future would bring, could not afford to enroll their children. This was despite the modest tuition our schools charge and even with the generous scholarship assistance we offer.
To their credit, when President Trump and Congress enacted the CARES Act back in March, the measure included the “Education Stabilization Fund,” intended as a quick burst of emergency financial relief to all children and teachers. However, not only was the fund insufficient to address the needs of all schools, the means used to divide the funds among public and independent schools has left many schools, and therefore their respective students and teachers, without any emergency assistance.
The divisive, confusing formula spurred an unnecessary, time-wasting controversy that has pitted public schools against independent schools, even prompting Richard Carranza, the chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, to take an ugly swipe at the private schools that are performing a public service by successfully educating thousands of New York’s students, the majority of whose family incomes are below the poverty line. Carranza said: “As the largest school district in the nation, we need more, not less, funding from our country’s leaders, whose job it is to support public institutions rather than privatization that benefits the privileged few.” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has even joined in a lawsuit to keep all children in the city from promised funds.
The chancellor and the mayor should know better, and so should government leaders. The job of our country’s leaders is to serve all of the country and, in this case, all students and all teachers in all schools in every state. Crises and disasters of the past, whether they have afflicted the entire country or just some communities, have always brought us together. This time should be no different.
Both houses of Congress and both political parties need to put children first and pass this new education funding for all schools now. The education and safety of our children demand action.
School has started. Parents are calling. Will our nation’s leaders answer the call?
Timothy Dolan is the cardinal archbishop of New York.
Tags: Opinion, Op-Eds, Education, Religion, Coronavirus, School Choice, Students, Teachers, Catholicism, Policy
Original Author: Timothy Dolan
Original Location: Congress and Trump have unfinished business: Funding all schools