Levin, education leaders say more federal funding is ‘urgent’ during pandemic

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U.S. Rep. Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.), vice chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, said on Wednesday that now is not the time for leaders in Washington, D.C., to withhold federal funding for Michigan’s public schools. 

“With the state government and local governments facing a huge budget deficit, it’s just a double whammy loss for our schools, and the federal government simply must step in,” Levin said during a press conference Wednesday with Michigan educational leaders

COVID-19 continues to negatively impact Michigan’s state and local economies, and while the state budget over the next two years is estimated to be in better shape than what was predicted back in May, budget cuts are still expected if the state doesn’t receive more federal funding. 

In May, U.S. House Democrats introduced the $3 trillion HEROES Act, which would provide more than $1 trillion for state and local governments, including more than $100 billion in education funding.

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Specifically for Michigan, the HEROES Act would designate nearly $1.8 billion for Michigan’s K-12 schools. 

Michigan Education Association (MEA) President Paula Herbart said the U.S. Senate’s holdup on another round of COVID-19 relief is “unacceptable.”

“If we needed any proof this democracy is broken, all they would need to do is look into Washington, D.C., with lives of students, educators and families at stake, lawmakers seem to be unable to reach agreement on funding to protect us,” Herbart said. “In Washington, President Trump and the U.S. state Republicans responded to the House-passed HEROES Act with proposals that contained no school funding. Zero.”

Herbert said that without the additional federal support, many Michigan’s school districts will struggle to stay open through the pandemic. 

“Opening schools is one thing. Keeping them open is another major obstacle,” she said. “As schools in Indiana, Georgia and other states have realized, this is critical. And the only way that we can do this is if the federal government steps up and close the gaps that we have here in Michigan for students, to ensure their safety and the safety of educators and their families.”

David Hecker, president of American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Michigan, was critical of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Trump for pushing schools to reopen buildings, with threats to cut funding for schools who choose to go remote this fall. 

“Saying education should be face-to-face, as the secretary and the president said, without considering science and real facts on the ground is reckless and shows no concern for the health and safety of students and staff,” he said. 

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According to a study done by Education Policy Innovation Collaborative (EPIC) and the Michigan Department of Education, about 12% of Michigan’s public schools have decided to start the school year completely remote, while about 86% of the districts offering some amount of in-person learning. 

MEA Local 1 President Mary Campbell, who represents 16 school districts in Macomb County, and AFT Local 698 President Lincoln Stocks, who represents the Eastpointe area, said that fear and health concerns around COVID-19 has caused a number of teachers in their areas to retire or leave the profession. 

“In Eastpointe, our teachers have suffered through and struggled with a reduction of nearly 25% in our peak earning capacity, and now as we’re just beginning to recover, we are faced with yet another potential financial catastrophe. It’s making teachers just panic as to what they’re going to do with their financial futures,” Stocks said. 

Levin said that federal relief money for schools is necessary, but it needs to be flexible for districts, whether they decide to proceed with the school year in-person or remotely. 

“The way we had the money in the HEROES Act, it was to give money to the states for their education budgets and directly to the K-12 districts, so they could spend money as they needed,” Levin said. “We need to give the funds to the educators with the flexibility to help their kids in the best way that they can and that’s appropriate for that community. It seems like the most American of ideas to me.”