Why has this blog kept on covering the Trump administration’s and U.S. Senate Republicans’ lack of willingness to negotiate a second COVID-19 stimulus bill including federal assistance to help public schools make accommodations to open safely this fall and to shore up the state budgets which provide an average of 40 percent of K-12 public school funding across the United States?
The answer is simple and for me it is very sad. I do not remember a time when the wellbeing of children has been so totally forgotten by the leaders of the political party in power in the White House and the Congress. This fall, school district leaders have been left on their own as they try to serve and educate children while the COVID-19 pandemic continues raging across the states. School leaders are trying to hold it all together this fall at the same time their state budgets in some places have already been cut.
In Ohio, the COVID-19 recession is only exacerbating a public school fiscal crisis driven by a long history of inequitable school funding and the expansion of school privatization. On November 3, the school district where I live has been forced to put a local operating levy on the ballot simply to avert catastrophe. EdChoice vouchers, funded by a “local school district deduction” extract $6,000 for each high school voucher student and $4,650 for each K-8 voucher student right out of our school district’s budget. Although these students attend private and religious schools, the state counts voucher students as part of our per-pupil enrollment, which means that the state pays the district some of the cost of the voucher. In a normal year, there is a net loss because the vouchers are worth more than our district’s state basic aid, but this year the loss is even worse: In the current state budget, the Legislature froze the state’s contribution to the state’s school districts at the FY 2019 level. This means that the state is not allocating any additional funding to our school district to cover the new vouchers the state is awarding this year from our local budget. The Plain Dealer reports that our district will lose $9 million to the EdChoice vouchers this school year, and the school treasurer reports that 94 percent of all vouchers being awarded to students in our district are for students who have never been enrolled in our public schools. In essence, this means that across Ohio, the Legislature is forcing local school districts to pay for private and religious education.
This year, however, on top of the voucher expansion, COVID-19 has affected local school budgets across our state. Last spring, when the coronavirus shut down businesses and caused widespread layoffs, the Governor significantly reduced what the state had already promised to school districts in the state budget. Across the state’s 610 school districts, over $300 million—which the school districts had been promised before the fiscal year ended on June 30—just didn’t arrive. All of this has created a fiscal emergency for school districts across Ohio.
So, what about the second COVID-19 relief bill that Congress has been fighting about since the House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act on May 15 as its first bid in the negotiations? House Speaker Nanci Pelosi and White House negotiator Steve Mnuchin had been talking actively in the past couple of weeks, and the President had seemed encouraging, despite reported opposition among Republicans in the U.S. Senate. But on Tuesday, in a puzzling and contradictory series of tweets, President Trump dimmed the prospect for any further fiscal bill. The NY Times‘ Ben Casselman and Jim Tankersley report: “Here is the situation the U.S. economy faces, a month before Election Day: Job growth is stalling. Layoffs are mounting. And no more help is coming, at least not right away. American households and businesses have gone two months without the enhanced unemployment benefits, low-interest loans and other programs that helped prop up the economy in the spring. And now, after President Trump’s announcement Tuesday that he was cutting off stimulus negotiations until after the election, the wait will go on at least another month—and very likely until the next presidential term starts in 2021. It could be a dangerous delay.”
Trump quickly backtracked, however, and by yesterday it appeared that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and White House negotiator Steve Mnuchin were once again talking. The Washington Post‘s Erica Werner and Jeff Stein explained: “President Trump said Thursday that economic relief talks are back on and could include a new round of $1,200 stimulus checks, two days after he abruptly declared them over and ordered his deputies to stop negotiating with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.” The President made it clear that he cares primarily about bailing out the airlines, which have begun massive layoffs, and sending out another batch of $1,200 relief checks prior to the election. Werner and Stein continue: “It remains highly uncertain that any deal can be reached, on airlines or anything else. Talks have been on again and off again for months, but ultimately Congress and the administration have been unable to strike a deal…. It was unclear what would come of the new effort, given that Democrats are unlikely to support legislation that excludes aid for the unemployed and state and local governments.”
With nobody seeming to pay attention to our children’s education, I suppose those of us who care about public schools as part of another federal COVID-19 relief bill will have to count on economists making arguments about the multiplier effect of providing needed budget assistance for state and local governments. The Economic Policy Institute published comments from economists at a panel on why help for state and local governments ought to be included in any new federal stimulus. Columbia University economics professor, Glenn Hubbard explains: “(W)e should have learned from the Great Recession… the very large cost of failing to come through with enough for state and local governments… There’s recent research suggesting that every dollar of additional state aid would support at least $0.30 more payroll from state and local workers.”
Harvard economics professor, Jason Furman also advocates for the economic multiplier effect: “For every dollar we spend on state and local assistance, it adds probably $1.70 to the size of the overall economy. There’s nothing that economists have studied better and more carefully when it comes to fiscal policy multipliers, probably, than state and local assistance.” Furman is assuming we know that, unlike the unemployed, school teachers who have jobs can afford to pay rent, buy food and pay for gas, thereby multiplying at the local level the economic impact of the dollars invested by the federal government. Furman also adds another economic argument for public schooling: “And finally, if we want to have an economy, we need to have the best shot at doing the best we can with schools. That’s going to cost money. You don’t spend that money, you don’t have kids in school, you don’t have parents working…”
Moody’s chief economist, Mark Zandi adds: “State and local governments are hemorrhaging red ink, and it’s coast to coast…. Every state, municipality, is struggling, and responding by slashing payrolls. We’re down 1.3 million state and local government jobs since February…. There’s no more effective way to help the economy and to help these states and support these jobs than providing federal government aid to state and local governments.”
All year, there has been one loud, consistent and effective voice for children, teachers, and parents. The American Federation of Teachers’ Randi Weingarten grasps the real meaning of President Donald Trump’s and U.S. Senate Republicans’ failure to negotiate a second COVID-19 relief bill which would include help for public schools and for the state governments responsible for a large portion of public school funding:
“Clearly the American people are not a priority for this President. The consequences of COVID-19 have disproportionately hit poor and middle-class Americans: small business owners, workers who have been laid off, and families worried about whether they can pay the rent—pay for food, healthcare, prescription drugs, and child care—and send their kids safely to school… The real-world consequences of the administration’s inaction and ignorance are staggering: Without a stimulus, the AFT estimates the loss of 1.4 million jobs in education alone…. The President again opts for what he thinks will help him politically rather than what will help everyday Americans.”