On a strict party line vote, Democrats in the Senate on Wednesday defeated an amendment that would withhold money from schools that refuse to reopen even after teachers are vaccinated.
That not a single defector was willing to stand up for reopening schools—a goal asserted by the Biden administration and endorsed by the CDC—is further evidence of the political influence of teachers’ unions over the debate that has pitted public school families, and sometimes even school boards, against teachers’ unions.
The position implied by the rejection of the amendment—that teachers ought not to resume normal in-person instruction until all children have been vaccinated—is increasingly popping up in districts around the country, from Virginia to Massachusetts.
Since no COVID vaccine is even yet approved for children, this demand is likely to push school reopening dates well into 2022, an unacceptable reality for the many families observing the harm school closure is inflicting, not just on their children’s educations, but their well-being.
In a clip garnering thousands of likes on Twitter, a Harlem public high school senior at a rally to reopen schools shared that the potential for years of school closures left him feeling helpless. “I feel like they gave up on us… they looked at the public school kids and said, you know what? They really aren’t that important.”
.@NYCMayor @UFT— #KeepNYCSchoolsOpen (@KeepNYCSchools1) February 3, 2021
A Harlem public h.s. senior & athlete from the Bronx at our City Hall rally this morning:
“I feel like they gave up on us…they looked at the public school kids & said you know what? They really aren’t that important.”#KeepNYCSchoolsOpen #openschools pic.twitter.com/b7Lele6s81
The reality is that kids’ educations and parents’ voices often aren’t prioritized in public schools because the way we set up our education system and funding ensures that they can be easily ignored. Unlike in private schools, the vast majority of which offered in-person learning starting this fall, adults in the public school system are not missing paychecks as a result of missing work. Even school bus drivers are sent on their regular routes with empty seats.
The system operates for the benefit of the adults in its employ because it can; taxpayer money continues to flow regardless of the quality (or existence) of the education on offer. But state legislatures, feeling pressure from parents, have the opportunity to change this dynamic. Over two dozen bills to expand school choice are making their way through 17 states (so far).
For many, programs like education savings accounts will be a lifeline that makes it possible for them to pursue education options outside of the public school system, whether that’s private school, tutoring, or homeschooling. But for others, just having control over the dollars earmarked for their children’s educations will give them the necessary leverage and power to have a real seat at the table, too many of which are currently occupied by politicians and unions.