Oversight Republicans investigate why DOE hasn’t spent COVID relief funds, role of teachers unions


(The Center Square) – Oversight Republicans have launched an investigation into how the U.S. Department of Education has handled billions of COVID-19 relief dollars, raising the alarm about the major learning loss experienced by students.

Republicans on the House Oversight Committee sent a letter to Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona demanding documents and answers as to why most of the money has reportedly remained unspent.

They also are requesting documents on whether teachers unions, which often pushed for a delay in reopening schools, had undue influence over federal guidance on school reopenings and thus worsened learning loss.

“We, and the American people, are due an explanation on how and whether the Department is addressing the negative effects of prolonged school closures on children enrolled in K-12 programs across the country in light of the appropriation by Congress of a total of $263 billion for the Education Stabilization Fund (ESF) over the course of three pieces of legislation,” the letter said. “According to media reports, the vast majority of these ‘emergency’ funds remain unspent. Study after study shows the learning losses caused by prolonged pandemic school closures are compounding and preventing students from achieving academic success.

“Committee Republicans plan to ensure the department is doing everything in its power to ensure states and school districts properly target funds to remedy the acute learning losses brought on by prolonged pandemic school closures,” the letter added.

Lawmakers also point out that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control worked with teachers unions on when to reopen schools. They formally requested all communications with teachers unions to find out the extent of their influence over the CDC’s decision making.

“Under the Biden Administration, the CDC went so far as to allow the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), a union that represents adults and not children, to modify the guidance to ensure schools did not fully reopen,” the letter said.

Studies show those closures had lasting negative impacts on students.

“Prolonged school closures and forced remote learning were abject policy failures,” the letter said. “Across the board, we have witnessed sharp declines in reading and math scores from 2019 to 2021, though smaller declines in pass rates for students with access to more in-person instruction. Students whose classes were less disrupted in the 2020-21 school year lost only about 20 percent of math learning compared to losses of 50 percent for students who did not have access to in-person instruction.”

Republican lawmakers on the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis released a report in March detailing the “unprecedented access” given to teachers unions in writing COVID-19 guidance for schools. Teachers unions largely pushed for delaying reopening schools.

The news was particularly controversial since unions gave millions of dollars to Democratic candidates in 2020.

“Teachers’ unions, including AFT, donated more than $43 million to liberal groups and candidates during the 2020 election cycle,” the report said. “The two largest unions – which both endorsed then-candidate Biden for President – have approximately 4.7 million members. [CDC scientist] Dr. [Henry] Walke’s testimony to the Select Subcommittee shows the Biden Administration rewarded their support with unprecedented access to the policymaking process for guidance on re-opening schools.”

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten has defended her cooperation with the CDC, arguing that she was obligated to advocate on behalf of teachers’ interests.

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