Friday free market: Schools close despite COVID money

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Jonathan Small

Oklahoma school officials have long blamed the state’s education challenges on an alleged lack of funding. When it comes to COVID, that excuse doesn’t hold water. Oklahoma districts have billions available to them but continue to close for in-person learning.

Oklahoma parents deserve an explanation as to why this keeps happening.

It’s true that schools, like most businesses, have had workers sidelined due to the latest COVID surge. But unlike most other employers, schools have received literally billions to mitigate the impact of COVID. Yet they seem as ill-prepared today as when the pandemic first hit.

Since 2020, Congress has approved three rounds of federal COVID rescue funds, providing more than a combined $2 billion to Oklahoma school districts to mitigate viral spread, address challenges created by the pandemic, and reverse loss of health. learning related to COVID closures.

But more than 70% of that money — about $1.4 billion — sits idle today, according to figures recently presented to lawmakers during a budget hearing for the state’s Department of Education. Oklahoma.

It is true that money will not make a COVID-infected teacher suddenly COVID-free and able to return to class. But it allows schools, for example, to raise the salary of substitute teachers to a level that will attract an immediate supply of temporary replacements. Few districts seem to have done so.

Relatively few conditions were attached to federal COVID funds. For nearly two years now, schools have had ample carte blanche to prepare for the impacts of COVID. How did they use that money beyond hand sanitizer and masks? Why hasn’t more planning been put into maintaining the service during future outbreaks?

When kids stay home for distance learning or school closures, their parents still have to go to work. Treating school yards as somewhat different from other yards is no longer defensible given the lavish funding provided to schools.

Critics of Governor Kevin Stitt, some of whom work in public schools, have suggested he could somehow stop an airborne virus with the wave of a government wand. If so, why haven’t these critics done it with the money they have in public schools?

No one expects schools to be completely exempt from COVID challenges. But parents have every right to ask why schools aren’t better prepared and why schools have failed to sustain in-person learning amid a flood of taxpayer funding.

Jonathan Small is chairman of the Oklahoma Public Affairs Council (www.ocpathink.org).

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