Outside of his family, few people believe Joe Biden will seek a second term in 2024, at age 82. Thus, he is uniquely positioned to rise above partisan politics, stand up to the special interests and put regular Americans first.
But if the debate about re-opening schools is any guide, Biden is wasting that opportunity and falling back into nakedly partisan politics in which the Democratic Party’s biggest donors—here, teachers’ unions—get what they want no matter what the evidence shows or common sense dictates.
There shouldn’t even be a debate about re-opening schools. COVID-19 poses almost no risk to children. Despite fears that asymptomatic children might spread the virus to their teachers—some called schools “super spreaders”—studies from across the globe have shown that this does not happen.
America is no exception. One study recently published in Pediatrics concluded that “schools can reopen safely if they develop and adhere to specific SARS-CoV-2 prevention policies.” Even the U.S. Centers for Disease Control says that “data” from its studies, taken “together with the observation that rates of infection among teachers and nonteachers were generally similar, indicated that schools were not associated with accelerating community transmission.”
Meanwhile, the costs of closing schools have been extreme, with youth suicide rates skyrocketing in some locales and children falling years behind in school. The Brookings Institution estimated that “the cost to the United States in future earnings of four months of lost education is $2.5 trillion—12.7 percent of annual GDP.”
That article was published in April 2020. The cost of a year and counting of lost education for the majority of American children will probably far exceed that number.
Given this evidence, the president should be pushing for kids to get back to school, in person, everywhere. There is just one problem: teachers’ unions, which are using in-person education as leverage to demand unprecedented increases in spending to make schools “safe” and, in some cases, to achieve political goals that have nothing to do with education.
The White House must know that the unions are on thin ice. Last summer, a Rasmussen poll showed that just 29 percent of parents believed teachers’ unions have a good impact on the country. The poll also revealed that 60 percent of parents believed the teachers’ unions are “more interested in protecting their members’ jobs” than in the quality of education they provide. That was before many schools shut in-person instruction again last fall.
Schools don’t have to spend millions of dollars to be “COVID-proof,” as though that were even possible. They just have to follow basic hygiene and social distancing protocols, like the many other “essential” activities governments have let Americans participate in during the past year. They can even require masks, as far as most parents care. But they need to open.
In places like Los Angeles County, many private schools have already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to make their schools “safe,” with smaller classes and improved ventilation—everything the White House says we need to do to get kids back on campus. The government still won’t let them open.
This is beginning to sound like an endless round of “heads schools stay closed, tails they don’t open.” It’s underlining that Democrat’s claimed reason for not reopening — safety — isn’t the real one. If it were, they’d let sanitized schools open.
Sadly, President Biden’s weakness on re-opening schools shouldn’t surprise anybody. As I wrote last summer, Biden’s campaign proposal to open schools was a five-page handout to special interests that called for creating things like a “White House-led initiative to identify evidence-based policy solutions that address gaps in learning, mental health, social and emotional well-being, and systemic racial and socioeconomic disparities in education that the pandemic has exacerbated.”
It also pushed for “a COVID-19 Educational Equity Gap Challenge Grant to encourage states and tribal governments … to develop bold plans that adopt evidence-based policy recommendations and give all of our students the support they need to succeed.” The proposal had nothing to do with getting kids back to school as quickly as possible.
Many parents gave Biden a pass during the campaign because he was running against the reviled Donald Trump. But his honeymoon won’t last long. Voters are fed up and it will soon start showing up at the polls.
That’s already happening with the effort to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom. The California Democratic Party may think the recall is a “coup,” but a new poll shows the governor’s support plummeting. If the recall qualifies—as appears likely—Newsom will be going through a recall campaign this summer and will have to decide whether to side with families or teachers’ unions.
That won’t be a fun choice, and Newsom won’t be able to have it both ways. As one Democratic voter recently said, “if schools are not opening in the Fall I will certainly support recalling Gov. Newsom.”
Let that be a lesson to those inside the Beltway. It’s not enough to send Anthony Fauci on television speaking out of both sides of his mouth, as he has repeatedly done on school re-openings. Keeping schools closed will cost Democrats credibility with voters just as the midterm campaign heats up. And they won’t have Trump to blame this time.