Rep. Susie Lee Examines Best – and Worst – Solutions to Safely Reopen Schools During COVID-19
Washington, D.C. – Member of the House Education and Labor Committee, U.S. Rep. Susie Lee (Nev.-03), participated in a hearing examining how to overcome obstacles to safely reopen schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rep. Lee highlighted that the two most important steps to safely reopen schools are, number one, testing, and number two, federal relief for state and local governments:
“I’ve listened today about the back and forth argument that ‘if you want to open schools safely, you don’t value in-person learning.’
“Let’s be clear, we totally agree, and honor, and respect, and need to have students in the classroom learning, one-on-one with a teacher. That is the ultimate goal. But we also need to do it in a way that doesn’t risk lives.
“Dr. Schwinn [Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Education], I applaud your commitment to opening schools. But I find it odd you’re not acknowledging the necessity of federal support to be able to do so.
“I represent the state of Nevada. We’ve seen a $1.2 billion shortfall, likely cutting over $156 million in K-12 funding.
“We know whatever option we’re looking at, they will require additional resources. And honestly, to me, it requires additional testing.
“The lack of testing in this country is, number one, why we have rampant unemployment, and number two, why we are faced with this awful decision of how we reopen schools.
“Whether we treat our students and teachers like guinea pigs by rushing to open our schools without proper resources, or we keep trying to do remote learning, which we know does not do our families and students the justice they deserve.”
Rep. Lee asked hearing witness Dr. Michael Hinojosa, Superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District, what public schools need from Congress right now to safely reopen:
Rep. Lee - “Dr. Hinojosa, I want to ask you, you’re in a predicament quite like we are in Nevada, where Dallas is facing issue of nearly $33 million in lost revenue, which will certainly impact your schools. Can you tell Congress how we can best address these revenue shortfalls and how we can best help you in your ability to reopen in the fall?"
Dr. Hinojosa - “For us to be open, our biggest ask is to make sure we have broadband connectivity and devices so that we can connect with our families.
“We need a lot more support going forward with support for our special needs students, and Title 1 is so critical to us. Ninety-two percent of our students are economically disadvantaged.
“Also, the big funding that comes from the Department of Agriculture that goes to feeding our students. We feed all of our students two meals a day, and it’s extremely important that those opportunities continue through the long term.
“Also, the state took a lot of our money through the CARES Act to supplant the revenue that we get. We understand why they did it because they have significant shortfalls, so they did that to shore up this year’s budget. But that’s only this year.
“Going forward there’s going to be huge deficits in state budgets. It’s a domino effect that will trickle down to every community in the state of Texas if nothing is done.”
BACKGROUND: Congresswoman Lee has led the charge in Congress to secure federal relief for state and local governments to help with impending budget cuts to vital services like education. She outlined her solutions to this issue in her June 7 Las Vegas Review-Journal op-ed.
On April 17, Rep. Lee introduced legislation to increase critical federal aid for Medicaid programs as state unemployment rates worsen. The bill would create automatic triggers that increase the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP), or the share of Medicaid costs borne by the federal government, based on each state’s unemployment condition. An increase in federal Medicaid assistance would help states allocate budget resources towards important programs like education, infrastructure, and social services. A provision similar to her legislation was included in the Heroes Act, which passed the House of Representatives on May 15.
Rep. Lee also helped secure expanded stabilization funds in the Heroes Act for smaller communities with populations of fewer than 500,000, which were excluded from CARES Act relief. Smaller cities in Nevada’s 3rd District, like Henderson and Boulder City, would directly benefit from this aid, along with billions of dollars in direct assistance to states that were included in the Heroes Act.