Parents and community groups in big, Democrat-run cities from New York to Chicago to San Francisco would very much like to reopen the public schools. But parents and community groups in big, Democrat-run cities from New York to Chicago to San Francisco are only incidental inconveniences to the teachers’ unions, who proceed from the assumption — which is far from obviously wrong — that the public schools are run for their benefit.
In Chicago, the teachers’ union voted to reject the city’s reopening schedule, demanding that its members continue to work remotely until all of the city’s educators have been vaccinated, which might well mean that students would still be out of the classroom until the spring semester of 2022 or later. District leaders have described the union’s position of militant noncompliance as an “illegal strike,” which is what it amounts to and how it should be treated.
The story is playing out much the same way in other cities: San Francisco had planned to begin reopening schools on Monday, but the teachers’ union blocked the effort. New York has been in a state of educational chaos with the back-and-forth between its incompetent mayor and its intransigent union bosses. The union rejected a reopening plan in Baltimore, but Baltimore plans to proceed without the union’s blessing, citing the dire academic performance of its students in remote learning, with more than half of students failing a class during the disruption.
Three out of four urban school districts are at this moment offering no in-person instruction.
The best evidence we have suggests that schools are not particularly dangerous environments when it comes to COVID-19 — no more and no less dangerous than any other environment. People can and do work, with the proper precautions, in businesses ranging from banks to grocery stores to warehouses. We find it difficult to imagine that the services provided at our public schools are somehow less critical than those offered at 7-Eleven.
The educational damage resulting from an unnecessarily extended disruption is a very high price to pay for the muscle-flexing of the teachers’ unions. So are the mental-health difficulties inflicted on children by the stress of disruption and isolation. And what is the point of it?
Joe Biden offers some insight into that question. He proposes a $130 billion payoff to the public schools as part of his reopening initiative — spending at one go, on one project, more than twice what the federal government typically spends on the schools in a year. (Total education spending is much more than that, with most of the funding coming from state and local governments.) How will that $130 billion get the schools open — in Biden’s first 100 days, as promised?
Biden’s nominee for education secretary, Miguel Cardona, reiterated the 100-day promise in an almost entirely content-free interview with NPR, offering such meaningless platitudes as: “We can only safely reopen our schools while we are able to reduce spread and contain the virus,” and promising “consistency in messaging,” as though messaging were the way to control a viral epidemic. Like the vaguely defined “aid to state and local governments” in Democratic coronavirus-response plans, this has very much the look of a slush fund for demanding Democratic constituencies.
Biden’s $130 billion is basically a ransom payment. In a sane world, local officials and voters around the country would be wondering how exactly they allowed themselves to be put into the position of depending on a government-fortified monopoly for K–12 education, and considering what might be done about that situation.