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Washington Weighs In: Senator Chris Murphy on School Reopening

More than 70 CEA members who are local leaders in their associations joined a virtual meeting with U.S. Senator Chris Murphy this week to hear congressional plans and challenges when it comes to school reopening.

A member of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, the son of a Connecticut ESL teacher, and the parent of two children who attend public schools, Murphy expressed his appreciation for CEA raising school reopening issues with teachers, students, and parents.

“We have one of the most impressive delegations of representatives and senators here in Connecticut,” said CEA President Jeff Leake, “and we appreciate your fighting for public education and taking the time to update us.”

“None of us wants to put students in schools that are not safe,” Murphy acknowledged. At the federal level, he explained, he and likeminded lawmakers are working to secure funding for safeguards that ensure schools are safer from a public health standpoint as well as better-equipped learning environments.

“There are still shortages of PPE and cleaning supplies,” he explained, “and as demand grows, costs go up. The federal government has done nothing to nationalize the supply, keep costs down, or allow schools to reopen the right way.”

While the feds have promised funding, Murphy notes, the money is “prescriptive—going only to schools that reopen fully, no matter health consequences.” He adds, “We support the HEROES Act, which includes not only enough money for PPE and cleaning supplies but also enough to hire additional teachers and paraprofessional staff.” The challenges facing our students, he says—in particular those with special needs—cannot be remedied with current staffing levels.

“If we are willing to spend money to bail out businesses, teachers should not be sheepish about expecting the same for schools.”

Part of the Senate Republican agenda, he noted, is to steer dollars dedicated to public schooling toward private education and homeschooling.

“I just don’t see any support for that in Congress,” he told CEA members. “And there are plenty of funds that already flow to private and parochial education, so there is no reason to move public dollars there.”

In response to questions from members, Murphy said, “Odds are very good that we get a bill with more education dollars by mid-August.” When fellow legislators returned to their home states—including Texas and Arizona, which have experienced alarming surges in COVID-19—Murphy said, “Many of them saw that there was no way schools could reopen without additional dollars, and they returned to Washington with that understanding.”

In terms of how CEA members can keep the pressure on federal lawmakers to ensure schools reopen safely and equitably, Murphy suggested, “Help us understand the right ways to get this done. Polls can be confusing and contradictory, and a lot depends on how questions are asked. So tell us what levers the federal government can press so that schools can reopen safely.”

A second virtual “Washington Weighs In” meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Wednesday, August 12. Open to all CEA members, it will feature updates from U.S. Representatives Joe Courtney and Jahana Hayes. Register here.

“Jahana has become a real force in Washington,” Murphy said, “and Connecticut did a great job in electing her to the state’s delegation. She has become an influential voice in the House of Representative on the school reopening issue.”

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