Arizona Governor Doug Ducey is not waiting around for school closures. In an effort to ensure that in-person learning in schools remains an option for families and students, Gov. Ducey is creating the Open for Learning Recovery Benefit Program. The program is designed to give parents financial relief if they are hit with unexpected school closures. The program will fund up to $7,000 for qualifying families.
The funds, related to the Arizona Department of Economic Security, would cover such things as approved childcare, online tutoring, school tuition, and school-coordinated transportation. The Open for Learning Recovery Benefit Program can be utilized by qualifying families even if a school closes for one day. They then can take the funds to find schooling options that best suit the family’s needs.
The main purpose behind Gov. Ducey’s program is to make sure there are no school closures in the state. “In Arizona, we’re going to ensure continued access to in-person learning,” said Governor Ducey through his own website. “Everyone agrees that schools should stay open and kids need to be in the classroom. With this announcement, we are making sure parents and families have options if a school closes its doors. Parents are best suited to make decisions about their child’s education. In-person learning is vital for the development, well-being and educational needs of K-12 students. We will continue to work with families, public health experts, and school leaders to ensure our kids can stay in the classroom and parents have a choice — always.”
The news was met with overwhelming approval from School Choice Now’s national director, Corey DeAngelis. “Every state should follow Arizona’s lead,” he said. “If a Safeway doesn’t reopen, families can take their money elsewhere. If a school doesn’t reopen, families should be able to take their children’s education dollars elsewhere. In fact, families should be able to take their children’s education dollars elsewhere regardless. Education funding is meant for educating children, not for protecting a particular institution.”
DeAngelis also pointed out that funding for “students, not systems…is the only way out of this mess.” DeAngelis then continued via Fox News, “Funding students directly and empowering families to find alternatives gives schools an incentive to cater to their needs,” he said. “This kind of bottom-up accountability, allowing families to vote with their feet, is the strongest form of accountability that exists. This move is a step in the right direction towards freeing families from the clutches of the teachers’ unions once and for all.”
What DeAngelis is referring to is the Chicago Teachers Union who voted to shut down schools, thus sending students back to the trials and tribulations of virtual learning. As COVID case numbers have begun to jump up with the new Omicron variant, the Chicago Teachers Union doesn’t feel being back in the class is the safest thing for them.
But it isn’t only the Chicago Teachers Union that is calling for school closures and a return to the virtual landscape. Teachers’ unions in states such as Massachusetts, Virginia, and Connecticut have also voiced their disapproval of returning to the classroom. The American Federation of Teachers in Massachusetts recently argued that if teachers returned now, their work environment would not be safe for them.
“The tests provided by the state allow for testing of all teachers and staff, and that should proceed,” said Beth Kontos, AFT Massachusetts President, via Fox News. “It should then be followed by a period of remote learning until the current wave of infections abates.” She then continued, “This is not the time for finger-pointing. It is time for [Massachusetts] Governor Baker and Commissioner Riley to accept the fact that we are in the midst of a runaway public health crisis that is beyond our control. They must acknowledge that returning students to school on Monday will inevitably make the crisis much worse.”
A teacher’s union in New York City attempted to commence with school closures but Mayor Eric Adams rejected the idea of remote learning. The union explained to its members that they approached Mayor Adams concerning this issue, “However, he feels strongly that schools need to remain open.” It was only Adams’ second day in office, and he was already feeling the COVID pressure to close schools.
The return to in-person learning has not stopped with just Mayor’s or Governors’s. President Joe Biden and Education Secretary Miquel Cardona, along with the many health experts from the American Academy of Pediatrics, are also pushing hard for children to return to the classroom. President Biden recently spoke on the subject telling the American people that we know more because we have more information regarding how to keep schools open safely. Biden feels, as do many others, that school closures are now unnecessary if a student tests positive for COVID. Citing the CDC’s recommended “test-to-stay” policy, Biden agrees that if a student were to test positive for COVID, other students can take the test and remain in class if they are not infected. Entire schools do not need to shut down or be quarantined.
There are other concerns as it pertains to school closures. According to a report in EdWeek, they say that the CDC showed that “between March and October of 2020, [mental health emergency visits] increased 24 percent for children ages 5 to 11, and 31 percent for kids ages 12-17. There was also a more than 50 percent spike in visits for suspected suicide attempts among girls ages 12 to 17 in early 2021, compared to the same period in 2019.”
These numbers don’t appear to concern some as the new year has brought about numerous school closures. According to Burbio, a site that tracks school closures, over 4,560 schools did not open after the holiday break. This number does not look to be going down anytime soon as more and more school districts and teachers’ unions continue their push to shut things down and go remote. Perhaps more states need to follow Gov. Ducey’s lead and implement their own Open for Learning Recovery Benefit Program.