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Hearing Recap: Republicans Slam School Closures

WASHINGTON, D.C., September 20, 2022
Today, the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education held a hearing to discuss the learning loss experienced by students during COVID-19 and made worse by disastrous school closures which, at their peak, affected 97 percent of K-12 students.

The learning loss has been catastrophic.

The most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress report states that 9-year-olds in 2022 declined five points in reading and seven points in mathematics compared to 2020; this was the first-ever recorded decline in math scores in the United States. Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research released a report showing that students who learned remotely for most of the 2020-2021 academic year lost about 50 percent of a typical school year’s math learning on average.

While all students were harmed by learning disruptions, minority students were the most affected by school closures. A June 2021 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study found that students of color had significantly less access to in-person learning compared to their peers.

School closures negatively affected students’ mental health

Forced school closures plunged students into feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety. The CDC’s 2021 Adolescent Behaviors and Experiences Survey noted that 37 percent of high school students experienced poor mental health during the pandemic, with 44 percent of all students reporting feeling persistently sad or hopeless.

Teachers unions, emboldened by the Left, bear the bulk of responsibility.

Multiple studies suggest that union influence affected school operating decisions more than COVID-19 infection rates. One study looked at more than 10,000 school districts’ reopening plans and found that “mass partisanship and teacher union strength” best explain how school boards approached reopening.

As Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee Republican Leader Rick Allen (R-GA) stated, teachers unions “prioritized politics over students.” Teachers unions held schools hostage to further their political agenda and, every time school districts capitulated to appease unions and get students back in school, unions moved the goalposts. This kept students out of school far longer than necessary and dramatically worsened pandemic-era learning loss.

The CDC caved to teachers unions

The CDC changed its school reopening guidelines after being lobbied and publicly chastised by Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers. Some districts took advantage of this excuse to keep schools closed and caused more students to fall behind academically.

Giving schools massive amounts of taxpayer dollars with no accountability was a mistake.

“Schools were given billions of dollars over the past two and a half years under the guise of a pandemic with no accountability measures to ensure taxpayer dollars were being spent appropriately,” Representative Mary Miller (R-IL) said during the hearing.

On the issues of funding and accountability, Republican witness, Tennessee Commissioner of Education Dr. Schwinn, wrote in her testimony, “As a state, we do not shy away from accountability or expectations for a return on investments made in public education. We also believe that spending is not the goal and we should instead be focused on the outcomes generated from that spending. Education is ultimately the responsibility of states and local districts, and as we recover from the pandemic, we should aim to emerge stronger than before.”

This is what students, parents, and taxpayers deserve.

Students must come first.

Our education system should serve students, not teachers unions, politicians, or bureaucrats. Parents and teachers have learned through the pandemic that too many so-called leaders don’t have students’ best interests at heart. That must change.
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