Senator Cassidy: Demagoguery won’t reopen our schools

The latest congressional outrage is from Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA), who went onto Fox News Sunday (January 31, 2021) with this pile of televised ignorance that begins at 02:34 into the video:

One area where we decrease. He [Biden] has $170 billion for schools. Now, we’ve already given schools 110% of what they usually receive from the federal government. Parochial schools have opened with a fraction of that money. Charter schools are opened. The real problem is public schools. That issue is not money. That issue is teachers’ unions telling their teachers not to go to work, and putting $170 billion towards teachers unions priorities, takes care of a Democratic constituency group, but it wastes our federal taxpayer dollars for something which is not the problem. We have $20 billion to get kids back to school on top of the roughly $66 billion, which is on top of the $57 billion schools normally get, we can get kids back to school without, you know, kind of bailing out the teachers’ unions.

A billion dollars seems like a boatload of money, but there are 51 million students in the US public schools; talk of each $1 billion translates into about $19.60 per child. I can’t speak for the veracity of the numbers Senator Cassidy has been throwing around, but I do know how to translate seemingly big federal numbers into local impact.

Let’s examine the real numbers behind school funding here in Massachusetts.

There are five strands of federal funding that flow to Massachusetts districts. For FY2021, this amounts to $302.750,324, roughly 2% of all school spending in the state. The state contributed $5,283,343,073, roughly 43% of the state’s school spending, with the rest coming from local taxpayers. Arlington receives about $335,000 from these strands, less than one half of one percent of our $82.5 million operating budget.

So, the feds tossed a few extra coins into the pot to provide $154,245 in federal Elementary and Secondary Education Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds for Arlington. It sounds like a big number when Senator Cassidy talks on Fox News, but local officials understand how relatively insignificant the federal support has been to date.

In Massachusetts, local funds are mostly generated from property taxes, a relatively stable source of funds. State revenues are predominantly from income and sales taxes, which are sensitive to economic downturns. Unlike the federal government, state budgets must be balanced annually.

In Massachusetts, state funding is awarded to school districts based on the property wealth of municipalities; ranging from 17.5% to 90% of the foundation budget, so students attending public schools in cities and towns with a smaller tax base are dependent on less reliable state funding.

There are too many state and federal officials who think they can simply decree that schools should be open for full-time, in-person instruction, and that decree should be enough for local officials to open schools. Those of us who rely on science, not state or federal decrees, know there are safety concerns that need to be addressed before we fully reopen our schools.

Instead of blaming teachers’ unions, let’s place the responsibility where it belongs. The federal government, when controlled by Senator Cassidy’s party, ignored science, failed to provide adequate testing, and fumbled the task of acquiring and distributing vaccine in their own end zone.

My message for Senator Cassidy: stop the school privatization demagoguery and do your job. Give President Biden the tools to fix the federal response, and make sure he can provide the resources we need to vaccinate our educators and open our schools safely.

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