How much will it cost to reopen schools in September? A lot
As Congress negotiates the second stimulus package in Washington, local school districts are banking on an infusion of federal aid to help them safely reopen their buildings in the fall.
In New York, public schools are providing a range of online, in-person and hybrid options to families this fall. State health guidance requires districts to invest in PPE and cleaning supplies, set up staggering class schedules, and arrange extra bus routes to keep students at a safe distance from one another.
The costs of these accommodations are adding up at a time when districts are already being pinched by the virus-caused financial recession.
A majority of New York school board members would like to see students go back to their classrooms on a full-time or part-time basis in September, but they have reservations about whether they can do that safely without more money, according to a poll by the New York State School Boards Association Tuesday.
Seventy-one percent of board members polled said they felt their district either could not safely open schools in accordance with state guidelines in the absence of additional state or federal funds or were unsure if they could do so. Just 29% believe schools in their district could reopen safely without the additional aid.
If the cost was not a consideration, three-quarters of school board members support having students return to in-classroom instruction in September full-time (42%) or part-time (34%), according to the survey.
“Our poll clearly shows that school board members want to see students back in school, learning in person and gaining all the social and emotional benefits that we know come from interacting with their peers, their teachers and other members of the school staff,” NYSSBA Executive Director Robert Schneider said. “But board members also are cautious about the potential health and safety consequences for students and staff, and they are very concerned that insufficient resources will undermine prospects for getting this right.”
A June report from the American Federation of Teachers estimates that if all schools reopened in the fall, expenses associated with new staff to allow for social distancing, PPE, technology for continued remote learning, and extra attention for students who fell behind during the spring shutdowns would cost $116.5 billion nationwide or more than $2,000 per public school student.
New York schools also missed out on the first wave of stimulus money because the state deducted the relief money from districts’ annual foundation aid allowances. The state also froze foundation aid amounts this year due to the financial crisis brought on by the pandemic, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said that state education aid could be slashed by up to 20% mid-year if the state fails to meet its revenue goals.
Local school districts are eligible to apply for some grants through the federal CARES Act which passed in March.
On Wednesday, The U.S. Department of Education awarded New York $20 million to aid the state with the professional development of teachers during the crisis. New York’s Education Department is among departments in 11 states to benefit from $180 million in grant funding — authorized by the CARES Act — to create innovative, student-centered educational models to help meet the challenges to learning during the coronavirus pandemic.
New York plans on using the grant funding to provide 190,000 educators with a combined 450,000 hours of professional support to implement effective practices in remote/hybrid teaching and learning, which in turn will reach an estimated 2 million students, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education.
School districts also saw some cost savings during the end for the 2019-20 school year while buildings were closed. Districts must submit detailed reopening plans to the state by Friday, but whether these proposals can be implemented will depend largely on the availability of resources.