Sen. Marco Rubio: Put students first and open schools – here's what we should do if teacher unions refuse

Chicago teachers strike looms as talks between district, union fall apart

Chicago Alderman Raymond Lopez, attorney Daniel Suhr and mom Laurel Golden join ‘Fox & Friends First’ to discuss what’s next.

Tens of millions of American children have not stepped inside a physical classroom in nearly a year.

In that time, the damage to our students’ futures has been catastrophic; isolation, depression and learning loss are only a few of the consequences with which our nation’s children are grappling.

When it comes to preparing them to be well-adjusted adults, there’s simply no substitute for in-person instruction.

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When schools across the country were initially forced to close at the outset of the virus, we knew very little about how it spreads. Now, as the pandemic extends into its second year, we have more information.

This week, leading health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that America’s schools should reopen as soon as possible if precautions are taken – namely mask-wearing and social distancing – and that new scientific research provides “a path forward to maintain or return primarily or fully to in-person instructional delivery.”

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Now, it’s past time to send our kids back to class.

But there’s still one thing standing in the way of schools reopening: bosses at our nation’s teachers’ unions.

Look at what’s happening in Chicago, where the mayor worked with the local union on a safe reopening plan, but the latter is now going to strike – stopping all educational activities for children in the city.

Unfortunately, the sentiment is not isolated to Chicago. President Joe Biden’s chief of staff Ron Klain is now saying that virtual learning should drag on longer. Why? As he put it: ” I’ll give you a word, money.”

Flying in the face of the CDC, he and the unions are demanding more cash. Klain went on to move the goalposts and say there needs to be “a lot more classrooms, a lot more teachers” before schools reopen. That isn’t a formula for a swift and long-overdue return to classrooms.

It does, however, happen to align with long-held goals of the national teachers’ unions.

The head of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) said the Biden administration is simply “siding with the science and trying to get this pandemic under control and trying to open schools safely.”

When schools first closed because of the pandemic, the unions pledged to return when it was “safe” to do so. The AFT’s president called on Americans to “summon the will to follow science both in school and out.” The National Education Association’s head similarly declared that when “it comes to ensuring safe, in-person instruction, we must rely on public health officials and scientists for what they know best.”

If a school continues to cave to the unions at the expense of their students, they should not receive funding.

The CDC has now made clear that we’ve reached that point. Indeed, states like Florida and many private and parochial schools around the country have safely been opened for far longer.

If the national teachers’ unions and their local affiliates in Chicago, New Jersey, California and elsewhere really wanted to follow the science, they would be working with local governments to open our schools right now, not demanding more taxpayer dollars. They would recognize that, with student suicide rates surging around the country, there is in fact a need to hurry back.

The truth is that Washington has provided a lot of money. At the end of last year, Congress passed legislation that included $54.3 billion for public K-12 schools. This funding is on top of the $13 billion provided to school districts through the CARES Act last March.

This is more than what the federal government typically spends on education in an entire year.

While unions fight to stay home, our students are falling behind. Doctors, nurses, firefighters, police officers, garbage collectors, cashiers, letter carriers and Florida teachers have powered through the worst of the crisis. And now with the CDC recommendation, the union bosses have run out of excuses.

America’s educators play an indispensable role in our nation and deserve safe working conditions. They also deserve representation that treats them with dignity – not as some pawn in the political power game over government funding.

Going forward, Washington must fund what it values. President Joe Biden promised that within 100 days of becoming president all schools would be open. I agree with President Biden, all schools should be open, which is why I will be filing legislation to hold our nation to that promise.

If a school continues to cave to the unions at the expense of their students, they should not receive funding. I propose that if a school refuses to offer students an in-person option by April 30, 2021, 100 days into the Biden administration, that funding should be rescinded and directed to school choice and the reopening plans of schools that are prioritizing their students’ needs.

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Right now, we face the very real risk of holding back an entire generation of Americans. There is no ambiguity at this point: in-person learning can be done safely.

If Democrats want to claim they are the party of science, they should side with our students and public health experts and tell the teachers’ unions it is time to get back to class and do their jobs.

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