The schools in our nation are around 45% funded by local and state taxes, with the federal government funding the balance. However, the pandemic has stretched budgets in all areas to the breaking point, with little left to devote to the safe re-opening of schools. There is no doubt that the changes made within the school systems to accommodate for the COVID-19 virus will be costly. Implementation of such things as proper ventilation, masks, desk separation and/or plexiglass for desks for social distancing, hand sanitizers, and testing have a price tag that most local and state governments simply cannot meet. However, there is hope. The latest COVID-19 stimulus package introduced by President Biden’s administration has set aside $130 billion for K-12 schools around the country in The American Rescues Plan Act of 2021. This has been heralded as the largest single investment by the federal government in the school system in history. The funds devoted to the school systems cover a variety of needs that include attempts to make sure that the school environments are safe but to also try to offer programs that address catching up on lost education as well as mental health conditions caused by isolation.
What Schools are Facing
In-person attendance for K-12 classes can only be done if the environment within the schools are considered to be safe. The changes that are needed in schools can include a revamp of HVAC systems for proper ventilation, PPS (personal protective equipment), additional custodial staff, more transportation, enhanced nursing/health stations with more personnel, COVID-19 testing kits, masks, and the development of a complete COVID-19 strategy that compliments the current local, state, territorial, tribal, and state regulations. Schools have historically shown:
- One quarter have never had a part-time or full-time nurse present.
- A majority of schools have been lacking in counseling support.
- Don’t have the staff or portable classrooms to reduce the sizes of classes.
- Have been stretched for a need for more teachers and teachers aides.
The new stimulus bill has established a number of elements to address the needs of children, teachers, staff, and entire school systems for the return of children to K-12 school in a safe environment, catch up on the loss of learning with specific programs, meet the needs of those children that have been underserved or lacked the ability to have online learning, and assistance for those that have experienced mental health issues.
Additional School Testing Help Offered by the Rockefeller Foundation
There is no doubting that a return to in-person education for K-12 schools during the COVID-19 pandemic is a daunting task. The latest stimulus package approved by President Biden will bring long needed help to many school systems but there is additional help being offered for COVID-19 testing by The Rockefeller Foundation. In response to an urgent need to disseminate lessons learned so far about the use of COVID19 testing to help facilitate safe school reopening, and as part of a portfolio of work to guide and support testing in K-12 settings, The Rockefeller Foundation supported RAND to:
- Describe the landscape of COVID-19 testing in K-12 schools during the 2020 fall semester and characterize the variety of testing programs that early adopters put in place;
- Identify implementation insights from those early adopters; and
- Offer recommendations on how to make widespread COVID-19 testing in schools feasible, acceptable, and effective.
In addition to the initial program to offer testing kits to K-12 schools, the Rockefeller Foundation has used the information found to create a “playbook” that can be used by schools as a guideline for testing. Entitled “Covid-19 Testing in K-12 Settings A Playbook for Educators and Leaders.” the playbook “is designed to offer detailed, step-by step guidance to help educators, leaders, and their public health partners put testing recommendations into action.” School systems around the country have never been put in a situation that required student and staff testing of any kind. The playbook that has been created by The Rockefeller Foundation has been crafted to help educators understand the importance of testing and establish critical guidelines within their schools for COVID-19 test protocols. Their playbook includes step-by-step instructions on the way to establish COVID-19 testing rules, develop routine screening testing programs, and understand the importance of testing for both symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals. Reassuring staff, students, and parents/caregivers on the safety of returning to school involves having all of the information and equipment needed to accomplish safety for all. The playbook includes detailed information for schools to lay the groundwork by establishing a testing task force, gaining all of the appropriate healthcare professionals and equipment, launching a school testing program, monitoring and evaluating the testing progress and results. When used in conjunction with the funds that will be allocated with the recent Americans Rescue Plan Act of 2021, school systems will be able to use the science of COVID-19 testing to assist in assuring the reduction of the spread of the virus and school environments that offer more protection for students and staff.