The National Education Association and the National PTA have announced a multi-million-dollar advertising campaign to encourage support for a federal coronavirus relief package that includes designated funding for schools.
The campaign, announced Thursday, is part of a broader push to link that aid to the need to safely reopen schools that were shuttered this spring to contain the spread of the virus.
The first ad, called "School Is Where the Heart Is," directs viewers to a website that helps them contact members of Congress in support of the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act.
That bill, proposed by House Democrats this week, would create a $90 billlion "state fiscal stabilization fund" for the U.S. Department of Education to distribute to K-12 schools and higher education. And it would provide nearly $1 billion to shore up general state and local budgets, which governors say is necessary to help avoid cuts to education spending. That's on top of aid from the CARES Act, a previous relief bill.
"We are already hearing people say its dead on arrival," NEA President Lily Eskelsen García told reporters in a conference call. "We are hearing that [President] Donald Trump is not supportive of this, so we have got to make our voices heard now."
The ad buy comes as state and federal leaders discuss how to reopen school buildings that were shuttered to contain the pandemic. Doing so safely will require federal aid to offset additional staffing costs associated with social distancing, meeting students' mental health needs after extended time away, and even running additional school buses so that students can sit further apart, said Eskelsen García and National PTA President Leslie Boggs.
The leaders criticized Trump's insistance this week that schools should reopen. He made those comments in response to the nation's chief epidemiologist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who testified before Congress Tuesday that states should be careful to meet federal reopening criteria before opening businesses and schools.
"I think I can say safely for our 3 million members that, oh Lord yes, we are desperate to go back to school ... but that's only going to happen when we can go back safely," Eskelsen García said.
The organizations also plan virtual "Red for Ed" rallies,
Leaders said they hope to capitalize on recent data showing public support for teachers.
"We've never felt the level of support from parents that we are feeling now, and that's because the connection we have is so important and so personal," Eskelsen García said.
In response to an April 30 poll conducted by GBAO Strategies on behalf of NEA, 88 percent of parents said they approved or strongly approved of how their child's teacher is handling the pandemic. That's a higher level of approval than governors, principals, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention got in the poll.
In a separate May 13 poll of NEA members, respondents said they were concerned about issues like equity, internet access, and meeting the needs of students with disabilities during remote learning.
Meeting those challenges will be especially difficult without adequate funding, educators and union leaders told reporters.
"We can't address anything if we are cut to the bone," said Lara Center, an elementary school library aide in the Denver suburbs.
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