When it comes to opening schools, Trump has to either put up or shut up

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

Open the schools! Or else. Says President Donald Trump.

Okay, there’s almost no one (besides a few kids, maybe) who do not want to see our public schools reopen this fall. My college-age kids are counting the minutes they can return to their campus.

As great as our teachers have done over video, there’s no question that kids learn better in the classroom and benefit from social interaction with other kids and teachers. Additionally, underprivileged kids benefit from the in-school meals and often don’t have access to broadband Internet at home.

Still, I’m pretty sure those reasons aren’t the ones behind Trump’s push over school opening (ok, threat — he said he’ll pull federal funding from schools that don’t reopen, although that appears to have been softened to just allowing parents of closed schools to take their share of federal funds to charter schools).

From his standpoint, kids being back in school mean more workers able to return to their jobs — or their office if they’ve been working from home. And the optics of kids back in school can’t hurt his chances at reelection.

He’s so eager that he said schools can largely ignore the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for school reopening (which by the way, the late spring push to reopen states often ignored CDC guidelines — and one can see how that worked out). Initially, the CDC was expected to make its guidelines less stringent, but as of Thursday decided to stand pat.

This dumps an enormous problem into the laps of local school boards and administration — basically putting them in a no-win situation.

First — and when it comes to education these days, it’s always first — it comes down to cash.

Like the state, and many municipalities, it’s likely that school districts will see some loss of tax revenue — less than the state to be sure, but every dollar lost hurts. Already, they’ve had to make investments to support distance learning and now they will need to spend even more to try and make school buildings as safe as possible.

To keep kids and staff safe, it’s going to be a heavy lift, from reengineering classrooms to figuring out to transport students safely and observe social distancing. None of it will be cheap.

And let’s be clear, with the state facing a multi-billion dollar shortfall already, no help will be coming from Harrisburg. And Act 1 precludes massive property tax hikes to cover the costs.

If Trump doesn’t propose and push through a hefty federal program to give money to public schools for Personal Protective Equipment and all of the things needed to keep everyone safe then there’s almost no way for schools to reopen safely.

Few districts will be willing to risk students — not to mention the legal liability — if they can’t do it in a way that feels safe. Additionally, even if the schools open, many parents will not send their kids to school if they don’t feel it is safe. Plus, a lot of teachers with risk factors will opt out of returning to the classroom.

And don’t even ask me how you socially distance during an active shooter drill. And yes, I know literally everything about that last sentence is an indictment of how off the rails we are right now as a country.

Undoubtedly, as we’ve seen the currently COVID-ravaged states that reopened despite the CDC guidelines, some schools, even in Chester County, will roll the dice and reopen. I pray it works out all right — but fear it will not.

This is another case where the price of political expediency could well prove to be very high, both in terms of dollars and the human toll.

At least by funding it, school districts would have a fighting chance to make something work.

Without it, well it seems like just another option for Trump to blame everyone else for his failures at the expense of our kids, our society and our economy.


Republicans appear to be calling the state house back into session this week to deal with the crucial issue of….judicial districts?

Not to deal with a multi-billion state budget deficit. Not to deal with funding for school districts in need with pandemic. Or any of the other half dozen real crisis issues the commonwealth currently faces.

Nope. Republicans are so tired of getting their butts whipped in statewide judicial races they want to change to rules to elect judges for statewide courts by a district basis. Now, understand they’d have to amend the state Constitution to do so — a heavy lift at best.

This move is a stark admission by the GOP that it cannot win statewide any more. The really bad news is that it seems likely that Republicans will lose control of at least one house of the legislature (the State House — the nine seats needed to flip control are all easily winnable just in the southeast portion of the state, where the GOP brand is basically toast).

So aside from the very unlikely prospect of it passing a referendum— judicial districts won’t get the second vote needed from the legislature.

With so many issues in dire need of addressing on the state level, Republicans seem only able to focus on wacky things — despite the growing evidence that Gov. Tom Wolf’s lockdown orders were the right thing to do — they continue to rail against them like spoiled teenagers and then take up things like judicial districts.

If Republicans are unwilling to be serious about governing, why should anyone vote for them?


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