In The News: The Atlantic: “Democrats Are Failing the Schools Test”

Washington, DC- The Atlantic this morning published a thorough analysis on how the refusal by Democrat politicians to stand up to their teachers union backers and immediately open schools may hurt them at the ballot box this cycle. As Republican State Leadership Committee President Dee Duncan notes in the piece,

“Democrats spent all of 2020 saying we should base school reopenings on the science, but now they want to base them on the priorities of the teachers unions that fill their campaign coffers…Democrats in key states need to answer for the irreparable harm they have already done to the academic, mental, and physical well-being of the kids they have kept from in-person learning.”

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Democrats Are Failing the Schools Test
The fight between politicians, parents, and teachers over school reopenings could soon affect elections
The Atlantic
March 24, 2021

Cooper would like to see Republicans win more elections, and he thinks Democrats who are angry about school closures could be the key. Democrats won in the 2018 midterm elections by turning the suburbs blue and driving up the vote count in cities. Republican gains in the House of Representatives in 2020 were almost all made by candidates who did better than Trump in suburbs and cities. As Republican and Democratic leaders plan for elections this year and next, these are exactly the voters they are chasing.

“What Democrats have to worry about is: Are they going to start losing center-left suburban parents who are fed up with some of the special interests who help control Democratic politics?” Cooper told me this week, while his kids were finally, if only part-time, in school. He was trying not to get too angry about policies his children have told him about—for instance, they’d been told to stare straight ahead at their desks and not turn their heads toward one another while eating lunch.

Biden knows that parents’ patience is almost gone. He knows that school-reopening questions will likely shape public opinion about his presidency, and will likely be a top concern for voters.

But a simple explanation exists for the nation’s inconsistent mess of restrictions and procedures, Republicans argue: The chaos is the Democrats’ fault. “We have kids who haven’t been in school for a year because of politics—and that’s unconscionable,” Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana said at a press conference in the Capitol this week, “and I think President Biden can do something about it if he’s willing to.” Or as Dee Duncan, the president of the Republican State Leadership Committee, which works with GOP state officials across the country, put it in a statement, “Democrats spent all of 2020 saying we should base school reopenings on the science, but now they want to base them on the priorities of the teachers unions that fill their campaign coffers.” Duncan added, “Democrats in key states need to answer for the irreparable harm they have already done to the academic, mental, and physical well-being of the kids they have kept from in-person learning.”

But the fact is that, in many places in America, local teachers’ unions have been the most vocal opponents of reopening.

The first political gauge for how mad parents are about schools may come soon. In New York City, the school closures are becoming an issue in the Democratic primary for mayor, and the leading candidate (and former presidential candidate), Andrew Yang, is blaming the teachers’ union for students not being in school. In May, Virginia Republicans will hold their (partially remote) state convention. Pete Snyder, who has the support of some of the more Trump-centric figures of the party in his run for governor, has made reopening his top issue; he has accused the Democrats in Richmond of doing long-term damage to children by not prioritizing their needs.

In California, Governor Gavin Newsom is already facing attacks from Republicans and a fellow Democrat as he heads into a recall election later this year. Meanwhile, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy is trying to balance complicated state and local politics in the lead-up to his own reelection bid this fall.

But New Jersey also hosts some of the nation’s most intractable fights over reopening—most notably in Montclair, in the northern part of the state, where teachers have gone to court to fight against returning to their classrooms.

In the meantime, the standoffs around the country among politicians, parents, and teachers have the potential to fuel voter backlash. Parents who want their kids back in the classroom and on the playground are unlikely to be satisfied by the addition of critical race theory to curricula or the removal of Lincoln’s and Washington’s names from schools. Trump “spoke to” many Americans’ anger about school closures, Cooper told me. It’s not hard to see how Republicans other than Trump could capitalize on that anger.

The Biden administration’s goal is to have the majority of K–8 students in at least some form of in-person school by the end of next month, Cardona told NBC News last week. Cooper isn’t impressed. Everyone involved could do more if they wanted to, he said. The CDC’s decision to reduce the six-foot social-distancing restriction in schools to three feet, which will facilitate having children in classrooms, is a change he was hoping for. (Weingarten says she’s not yet ready to say that schools should accept that change.) But there’s more to do. He has his own children on a waitlist for a Catholic school that has been open for months, and he said he would eagerly move his children there if given the chance. Weingarten’s response on the CDC change, he told me, shows that “nothing’s ever going to be good enough. They’re only willing to listen to the science that allows them to give an excuse to the large districts, which remain closed.”

“If Jill Biden, Randi Weingarten, and [CDC Director] Rochelle Walensky said tomorrow, ‘Schools should open five days a week as soon as possible,’ they would be open in a few weeks,” Cooper said. “They have incredible power, yet they act powerless when they’re asked for support.”

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