The White House is trying to distance Democrats from costly school closures

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TThe White House is trying to distance itself and the Democratic Party from pandemic-related school closures after mounting data shows closed classrooms have severely harmed students.

Student test scores have seen a precipitous decline in math and reading over the past two years, according to new data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, commonly known as the Nation’s Report Card.

STUDENTS IN CATHOLIC SCHOOLS WERE WIDELY DISPLACED FROM PUBLIC SCHOOLS BY LEARNING LOSS

Democratic-run states and teachers’ unions have largely pushed school closures as a safety measure in 2020 and 2021, but both groups are now distancing themselves from those positions, as has the Biden administration.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre claimed Monday that the administration had “always known that opening schools wouldn’t be enough,” and sought to shift the blame to Republicans for opposing the pandemic spending proposals President’s US $1.9 trillion bailout plan, which passed Congress in March 2021 without GOP support.

Education Minister Miguel Cardona released a statement citing the virus itself as responsible, without mentioning previous policy decisions.

“This once-in-a-lifetime virus has turned our country upside down in many ways – and our students cannot be the ones who are making the most casualties now or in the long term,” he said in a prepared statement. “We must treat our children’s task of catching up on reading and arithmetic with the urgency that this moment requires.”

Cardona also pledged a new round of funding from the American Rescue Plan, much of which has not been spent more than 18 months after the law passed, to address the learning loss.

But Republicans have blamed the Democrats, President Joe Biden and union leaders and have promised to do better if they take control of Congress after the midterm elections.

“Parents are the key players in their children’s education — not the failed teachers’ unions or the federal government,” it says a tweet from house GOPers. “House Republicans will hold the Biden administration accountable for labeling concerned parents domestic terrorists.”

Education is proving to be another battleground in the midterm elections, but one that could take a back seat to other issues in November. A recent poll found that just 3% of voters named education as their top priority, far behind issues like the economy, crime and the environment.

But that won’t stop the partisans from pitching their arguments to voters just two weeks before the decision on Congressional control is made. The White House has aggressively attempted to rebrand itself as an advocate for schools reopening, with Cardona posting an op-ed advocating that case on the same day an earlier round of test results was released showing big losses.

History doesn’t always agree. A 2020 ad by the Democratic National Committee has been doing the rounds on social media attacking then-President Donald Trump, particularly for trying to reopen schools in the fall.

One thing everyone agrees on is that the learning loss over the past two years has been severe.

The largest decreases in scores were in math, which was the largest decrease on record, according to the National Center for Education Statistics in a press release. For fourth graders, math scores fell 5 points from 241 in 2019 to 236, while eighth graders’ scores fell 8 points from 282 to 274.

In reading, both fourth and eighth graders have seen a 3-point drop since 2019. The fourth grade score dropped from 220 to 217 and the eighth grade score dropped from 263 to 260.

Teachers’ unions are among the top targets of Republican attacks. The Republican National Committee posted a video in September by Cardona, who thanked two union leaders, with the RNC claiming union bosses had “kept schools closed and forced masks on 3-year-olds”.

Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, released a statement this week, again blaming the pandemic, not politics, for student struggles. She said attacks on school closures are largely political.

“While some will seek to single out NAEP results to serve their own political agenda, we know that student success should not be politicized,” she said. “The findings confirm what educators have been sounding the alarm about for more than two years: the pandemic has exacerbated existing gaps in opportunities and learning experiences between white and black students, and between well-funded and chronically underfunded schools.

Trump-era education secretary Betsy DeVos argued learning loss was not a pandemic story and said the low test scores were evidence the public education system needed reform.

Although Biden administration officials have said they advocate reopening schools in 2020 and 2021, they still sometimes sound the alarm about the pandemic today.

White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha, on Tuesday, claimed he was pushing for open schools as early as fall 2020, but when asked by the Washington Examiner Whether he thinks schools should require COVID-19 vaccines for children, he said, the decision should be left to local leaders.

Biden similarly said the pandemic was a “global health emergency” as he received his fifth shot against the virus on Tuesday, blaming Republicans for shutting down COVID-19 funding in Congress.

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“We must continue the fight together,” Biden said, directing his comments to “friends in Congress” who say, “There’s really no reason the government should be paying for this.”

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