Congressional Democrats throw in the towel on K-12 education with their $58 billion opening bid for federal aid to schools.

Democratic leaders in Congress have thrown in the towel on K-12 education.

The federal aid package now being considered by the US House of Representatives, which is controlled by Democrats, includes only $58 billion for public K-12 schools out of its $3 trillion total. (From Education Week)

In normal times, a $58 billion shot in the arm for public K-12 schools would be a lot. It is $1,140 for each of the nation’s 50.8 million public school students.

However, that $58 billion would not be nearly enough to hold K-12 schools harmless from the enormous economic impact of the pandemic. Nationally, public K-12 schools spend $13,400 per student (in Florida it is $8,560). In mid-April, Moody’s projected hits to state budgets resulting from drops in tax collections and increases in health care expenditures. Florida’s drop in sales tax receipts was projected to be 18%, and an expected billion dollar hit to the state’s healthcare budget would bring the total impact above $8 billion. Florida spends about $17 billion each year on public K-12 education (including state and local sources), and although the $8 billion hit would be mitigated somewhat by the state’s rainy day fund and aid from the federal CARES act, K-12 leaders in Florida are planning for 20% budget cuts.

And even with all that, the $58 billion for K-12 is just the opening negotiating position for Congressional Democrats. The final K-12 number (if there is such an aid package at all) will be considerably smaller.

So get ready. What happens next in K-12 – as with so many other things that have happened the last several months – is going to be serious.

K-12 schools will be forced to narrow the scope of opportunities they provide. There will be a tighter focus on simply getting students graduated from high school. Courses and other services that are not directly related to getting students graduated (think courses in calculus and physics courses and perhaps opportunities in the arts) will be reduced or cut in many high schools.

Those of us at the university level who want to open the doors of opportunity to fields like engineering, science and the health professions will have to think differently about our work. If we want students, we will have to be actively involved in inspiring and educating high school students. We will be able to reach relatively few students, but the alternative will be reaching no students – and I (at least) find that unacceptable.

Shortly after Hurricane Michael devastated Bay County, where I’d been involved in considerable K-12 outreach, I was very discouraged about what I could do to help from my home a hundred miles to the east. So I asked my hero and (now former) Bay County School Board member Ginger Littleton what I could do to help. She gave me some very simple advice – encourage the teachers. So I will do what I can to encourage teachers now.

Godspeed, folks.

Four science teachers at Volusia County’s University High School were fired up to prepare their students for college majors in engineering and science.
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