Note: The author is a former Clark County School District (CCSD) Science teacher.
Public schools are set to reopen in just over a month and Nevada teachers have been set up for failure. Reopening schools is critical to getting the US and Nevada economies back on track. Everyone wants schools to reopen, but schools cannot reopen at the expense of our teacher workforce.
We can’t realistically command schools to do any “more with less”.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Nevada shut down its economy. With few businesses earning money and paying taxes, state revenues ground almost to a halt and Nevada is already looking at a roughly $1.2B budget shortfall. The economy has partially reopened, but this budget shortfall will likely never be recouped and may get worse. The budget shortfall in Nevada is replicated in every state in the Union. Governors have turned to the federal government for fiscal relief, yet funding for state and local governments is stalled in the Senate nearly two months after the House passed the HEROES Act in May. It is unlikely that additional federal relief legislation will come before the end of the month, if at all. Nevada is falling deeper into its fiscal emergency with no relief in sight.
In order to keep Nevada students, teachers, and their families safe, Nevada schools will need more money than ever before. Schools cannot make do with less. We do not know what the COVID-19-era public education will look like, but it will probably be one with extensive social distancing, which equates to smaller class sizes. Smaller class sizes will require more teachers. Nevada, and Clark County in particular, has had constant teacher shortages and attrition. How will our schools attract and retain enough teachers to deal with the smaller class sizes? There will be many creative solutions, but every one of them requires funding above FY-19 (or Fiscal Year 2019) levels. Another reality of COVID-19 is a need for large amounts of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in schools. This will also require additional funding above FY-19 levels.
Schools will need to enter into the extremely challenging PPE market with both shortages and price gouging. The market is also highly competitive, and Nevada our schools will be competing with the gaming industry that also requires large amounts of PPE. The world of COVID-19 education leverages technology that requires funding above FY-19 levels. Our schools will have greater medical needs and will place a greater burden on the medical professionals in our schools. Nevada students without health care will require testing and there will be a need for contract tracing, all of which will come at an additional cost. Keeping our schools clean and sanitized will require additional funding. The fiscal needs of Nevada schools are enormous and must be dealt with before schools are reopened.
Here’s why Trump’s demands for school reopenings are totally unworkable.
It is in this critical fiscal environment that President Donald Trump has threatened to cut off funding for school districts that do not open up to in school attendance. Most federal funding is for Title I, and it’s provided to support students with the greatest needs. Cutting off those funds will only make a bad situation worse.
With absolutely no idea what funding will be available for Nevada public schools, it is nearly impossible for them to plan their reopenings. Trump has directed the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to revise the COVID-19 guidance on school openings that was published in May. Today, the CDC announced that they will not revise the guidance and instead will publish additional clarification. At the earliest, guidance clarification and possible revisions will be released next week. It is hard to imagine that new guidance provided in a matter of days will have been properly reviewed by health care and education professionals. Without clear, well-thought, and vetted guidance, it is nearly impossible to develop a plan for reopening schools.
Federal “guidance” for reopening schools is already running late! It cannot be a moving target.
The federal government has failed to provide emergency funding to keep our schools safe. The federal government has failed to provide timely and accurate health safety guidance to keep our schools safe. Everyone wants schools to reopen safely and quickly to facilitate the restart of our economy. Teachers are not responsible for reopening the economy, but they will be pressured to return to the classroom under unsafe conditions. Students may be more resilient to the disease, but teachers, and in particular the older teachers who make up a large portion of our workforce, are not.
Nevada school teachers want to be in the classroom. They want to deliver a quality education to Nevada students in a safe and healthy environment. We must not rush to open schools before everything is in place for their success. Instead, we must take the time to do it right the first time. We must provide guidance, funding and training to our teachers. To do otherwise is an invitation to disaster.