Earth to Joe: Many Schools Have Already Safely Reopened

By Stan Greer | October 20, 2020 | 5:03pm EDT
Former Vice President Joe Biden participates in a Democratic presidential debate. (Photo credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Former Vice President Joe Biden participates in a Democratic presidential debate. (Photo credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

With under two weeks to go until Election Day, former vice president and 2020 presidential frontrunner Joe Biden continues to ignore the increasingly obvious fact that it is virulent Big Labor resistance to reopening, rather than any genuine public-health considerations, that is keeping many public school districts across America shuttered this fall.

Since summer, the Biden campaign has been publicly claiming that a massive, union boss-endorsed federal taxpayer bailout of government schools, above and beyond the billions of dollars in K-12 education relief approved by Congress in the so-called “CARES” Act this March, would be necessary before schools could reopen “safely.” Biden loudly reaffirmed this stance at the Sept. 29 presidential debate.

While Biden’s rhetoric regarding school reopenings has barely changed over the past few months, the facts have changed substantially. Month after month, more and more schools across the country are opening up for in-person learning, even as Big Labor-backed efforts by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to ram through an omnibus COVID-19 package, including tens of billions of additional dollars for government schools, remain stalled.

As Brown University economist Emily Oster explained in a brief, but powerful analysis published by The Atlantic on Oct. 9, kids began going back to school in Right to Work Georgia, Indiana, and Florida in early August.  Since then, at least some schools have reopened for in-person learning in the overwhelming majority of the 50 states. By the week ending Sept. 27, more than a million kids were attending classes in Texas alone.

Oster has been working with “a group of data scientists” at the technology company Qualtrics to “collect data on COVID-19 in schools.” The researchers have been assisted by associations of school principals and superintendents. 

Having tracked data for “almost 200,000 kids in 47 states from the last two weeks in September,” Oster’s team found “an infection rate of 0.13 percent among students and 0.24 percent among staff....Even in high-risk areas of the country, the student rates were well under half a percent.”

Among the tiny minority of schoolchildren returning who are infected with COVID-19, only a handful can be expected to become seriously ill. And a global analysis of data from 191 countries published at the end of September found that there is “no correlation between pupils returning to education after coronavirus lockdowns and a rise – or fall – in new infections.”  In other words, there is no credible reason to believe that ongoing school lockdowns are sparing even a miniscule number of schoolchildren and educators from serious illness or death related to COVID-19. Reopening schools is exceedingly safe as well as educationally beneficial.

study published at the beginning of this academic year, coauthored by education policy specialist Corey DeAngelis and economist Christos Makridis, found that, across the U.S., “school district reopening decisions are unrelated to COVID-19 risk as measured by recent cases per capita and deaths per capita in the county.” They saw “a strong negative association between unionization and reopening in person and no association between reopening and coronavirus intensity.”

Moreover, as pro-Biden pundit Jon Chait emphasizes, it is top teacher union bosses’ no-holds-barred opposition to school reopenings, unless and until a new massive federal bailout for public education is approved, that has driven “progressives” of all stripes into an “uncompromising stance” on this issue, to the detriment of schoolchildren and conscientious educators as well as taxpayers.

If Biden sincerely wants the many U.S. schools that remain shut down to reopen soon, he should publicly acknowledge the simple fact that thousands of school districts, predominantly located in jurisdictions where union bosses wield relatively little coercive power over teachers, are safely offering in-person instruction now. And he should urge union bigwigs like American Federation of Teachers union President Randi Weingarten and National Education Association union President Becky Pringle, who are staunch supporters of his, to stand down. 

That would be a startling move for a presidential candidate who is campaigning on a platform that includes a new federal mandate authorizing government union monopoly control over teachers and other public servants in all 50 states.  But it would also be a step in the right direction.

Mr. Greer is newsletter editor for the National Right to Work Committee.

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