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NY, CT Reps Say COVID Rescue Plan Would Help Schools Safely Reopen In Person

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Democratic congressional representatives from New York and Connecticut touted the education component of the next COVID-19 funding package the House could pass this week. The package is called the American Rescue Plan, and the lawmakers say funding would help schools reopen safely.

The federal lawmakers, all of whom are members of the House Education and Labor Committee, held a virtual press conference Wednesday about the plan’s nearly $130 billion to help state education departments open schools safely and make up for lost learning time.

“There is no question that we all want schools to reopen, but we must reopen safely,” says Jones. “That is critical.”

New York Congressman Mondaire Jones represents the 17th District, which contains all of Rockland County and part of Westchester.

“Our bill gives states and schools district the flexibility to use this funding in the way that works best for their schools, like purchasing PPE [personal protective equipment], hiring additional staff and investing in emotional and mental health supports for students,” Jones says. “Passing the American Rescue Plan is the single most important thing we can do to safely reopen our schools. There can be no doubt about that.”

New York Congressman Jamaal Bowman is an educator whose 16th District includes lower Westchester County and the cities of Mount Vernon, New Rochelle and Yonkers.

“What’s really important in terms of this $130 billion for our K-12 schools, is that the money gets, goes directly to our school districts and directly to school districts that have the highest need,” Bowman says. “So we’re talking high-poverty school districts and school districts that have been hit hardest by the pandemic. This money is not for governors to supplant resources, but supplement resources.”

Connecticut 5th District Congresswoman and educator Jahana Hayes:

“And I’m also keeping a very close eye on how those resources are going to be used,” Hayes says. “I’m hearing some concerns from colleagues and stakeholders in the education space about, while we want to leave the autonomy and the authority up to local municipalities and local districts, if you hail from a district that doesn’t believe or a state that doesn’t believe that COVID is a significant issue, or that this funding or money should be used for PPE, or that masks should be mandated in schools, it creates significant challenges.”

She says it’s important to afford school districts and municipalities flexibility in the use of the funding.

“However, as legislators, we have a responsibility to ensure that the language in this bill really directs the funds where it is needed,” Hayes says.

Jones, who attended the East Ramapo Central School District, says funding could help this district in particular, especially with hiring staff.

“Back to what’s happening in the East Ramapo Central School District where we’ve seen the layoffs announced last week of approximately 32 staff persons in that district and the combination of classes, this is money that should be helpful in that effort, God willing, if it’s, if it’s allocated properly by the state,” Jones says. “We also know, that in the short term, this money can be used to address transportation options to avoid crowded buses and, of course, to update ventilation systems. Long term, this is money that can be used for comprehensive after-school programs, summer learning programs, extending the school day, re-engaging students who were absent for remote learning, hiring counselors and nurses to care for students’ physical and emotional well-being. This addresses the learning loss.”

Again, Hayes:

“Part of my legislation that I introduced is actually included — the Save Education Jobs Act.  I recognize that while districts, local and state municipalities are dealing with unprecedented shortfalls, budget shortfalls, in this pandemic, one of the first things to go is generally education budgets,” Hayes says. “So I want to make sure that we are preserving education jobs, those teachers and counselors and social workers, the nurses, all of the support staff that are there to assist students when they return from what will likely be one of the most traumatic experiences of their life.”

Jones says he has introduced a number of education-related bills to bring equity to education, including the Strength in Diversity Act.

“Low-income and students of color have been most severely impacted by the pandemic,” Jones says. “And unless we take meaningful action, already wide gaps in educational achievement will only be further exacerbated.”

Earlier this week, Jones announced that he, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and other federal lawmakers introduced the Full-Service Community School Expansion Act to invest $3.65 billion in full-service community schools. Congressman Adriano Espaillat was also on the virtual press call. The Democrat’s 13th District includes portions of the Bronx and Harlem.

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