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Use COVID-19 Aid to Help Make Schools 'Command Centers,' Groups Urge

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The lobbying by the education community for additional aid during the coronavirus pandemic continues without letup—and one new effort involves assisting schools in becoming a community nexus in the battle against COVID-19.

In a Wednesday letter to congressional leaders, nearly 90 education and other groups are urging Capitol Hill to provide $200 billion for schools and to include the Rebuild America's Schools Act in the next coronavirus relief package.

But in addition to addressing typical infrastructure pressures schools face, the groups say the money can help "redesign" schools so that they can host on-site health clinics and summer programs; extend broadband to schools so they can serve as "reliable command centers during national emergencies"; and provide job opportunities through career and technical education. 

"This large-scale federal investment in public PK-12 infrastructure is worthwhile in the short-term and over the long-run. Local school districts already carry nearly one half a trillion in local long-term debt, signifying their strong local commitment to doing their share," the letter states. "However, the supplemental federal funds would allow these investments to go further and meet the actual needs of our country's public education facilities."

Since federal legislation signed in late March provided K-12 schools at least $13 billion in coronavirus-related aid, schools and education organizations have kept up the pressure on lawmakers to provide hundreds of billions of more for education to meet a sprawling set of needs, from special education services and internet connectivity to after-school programs.

Earlier this week, for example, dozens of groups called for at least $250 billion in assistance for K-12 and higher education. And this new lobbying effort is notably ambitious, beacuse it calls for at least 10 percent of the next relief package to fund its priorities. 

As we've pointed out, however, there's no guarantee that these efforts will pay off. That's because there's shaping up to be acrimonious debate over things like the level of federal assistance to state and local governments—if that aid is relatively small, it could lead to big dives in school spending. 

And of course, these priorities are at least somewhat separate from the broad and difficult challenges around restarting traditional school classes and activities. President Donald Trump is urging schools to reopen soon—although he thinks older teachers should sit it out for awhile. However, most states have shut down in-person instruction for the rest of this year, and next fall is uncertain. 

Wednesday's request to Congress is backed by 88 groups, from the two national teachers' unions to the National PTA and ASCD.

When Democrats introduced the Rebuild America's Schools Act last year, they proposed to back it with $100 billion, including $70 billion in direct federal spending. That's half of what the letter calls for in terms of school infrastructure spending; the new request also imagines broader infrastructure than what lawmakers highlighted when discussing last year's bill. 

The House education committee, which is controlled by Democrats, passed the legislation in February 2019.

Read the full letter below:

Image: Lindsey Lilley, an employee of the Elk Grove Unified School District, hands a Chromebook to the parent of a student in the district, at Monterey Trail High School in Elk Grove, Calif., Thursday, April 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)


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