Schools Need $245 Billion to Reopen Safely, State Education Chiefs Estimate

The cost estimate is the biggest yet from a national education organization.

SCHOOLS WILL NEED AS much as $245 billion in additional federal support to safely reopen in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, a new estimate from the Council of Chief State School Officers shows.

The cost estimate – the biggest yet from a national education organization – represents a sobering recognition from red and blue states alike that a major federal bailout is needed in order to reopen for 55 million children whose schools shuttered in March.

Photos: America at Standstill

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 18: The ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center is empty as it sits closed in the wake of the Coronavirus, COVID19, outbreak on March 18, 2020 in New York City. Businesses continued to close days after bars and restaurants shuttered as authorities in New York weighed a "shelter-in-place" order for the entire city. (Photo by Victor J. Blue/Getty Images)View All 30 Images

“While the amount of federal funding that is necessary to successfully and safely reopen schools and keep K-12 education budgets whole in the coming year is substantial, it is an essential investment in the nation’s ongoing economic recovery and future competitiveness,” Carissa Moffat Miller, CCSSO executive director, wrote in a letter sent Tuesday to Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican and chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, who requested the estimate earlier this month.

“As long as our K-12 school buildings remain closed, our country’s economy cannot get back up and running and our economy will continue to suffer trillion-dollar losses,” she wrote. “At the same time, we must address the significant academic and social-emotional impacts on students throughout this crisis and help them overcome the considerable learning loss and trauma they have experienced if we are ever to ensure a thriving economy in the years to come.”[ 

READ: The Privilege of Opting Out of School ]

The estimate concludes that states need an additional $158 billion to $245 billion in federal assistance over the next two years. The financial analysis takes into account costs associated with operating remote and in-person instruction, addressing students’ academic learning loss, and anticipated decline in state and local funding for education stemming from reductions in income, sales and other tax revenues.

An initial estimate from AASA, the School Superintendents Association, found that each school district will have to spend an additional $1.8 million simply to adhere to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s safety recommendations for reopening.

A second estimate from the American Federation of Teachers found that would cost each school – not school district – an additional $1.2 million to adhere to CDC’s safety recommendations as well as to provide all the additional costs associated with things like hiring more instructional personnel and providing academic support for students struggling after ineffective remote learning, bringing the total need for federal assistance to $116.5 billion.

The estimate from the state school chiefs comes as school officials across the country are coming to terms with how big of an undertaking reopening is, especially as school districts are staring down 15% to 25% budget cuts as a result of lost state and local revenue, which accounts for approximately 90% of school budgets.

Top concerns – aside from safety needs like personal protective gear and cleaning supplies – include ensuring every student has access to a digital device and an internet connection and providing enough academic support to offset the significant learning loss that occurred for all students, but especially the country’s most vulnerable students, including poor students, students of color, students with disabilities, homeless students, students learning English and others.

READ: New Estimates to Reopen Schools After Coronavirus ]

Despite the plea from dozens of national education organizations, Congress isn’t primed to act on any type of bailout.

The House of Representatives passed a $3 trillion relief package last month, which includes about $100 billion for K-12 education, well below the state chief’s estimate but Senate Republicans have no plans to consider the legislation. GOP leaders panned the bill as “a liberal wish list.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, has said any additional relief package will be smaller than the $2 trillion package signed into law in late March, which included just $13 billion for K-12 schools.

Alexander, who recently estimated it would cost $50 billion to $75 billion for K-12 and colleges and universities to reopen safely, is the only Republican making a major push to green light additional federal assistance right now.

“The surest step back to normalcy in our country is when 70-75 million college and high school and elementary school students go back to school,” he told CNBC on Tuesday. “If we need more money for that, I’m for that.”

Lauren Camera, Senior Education Writer

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