Pop some popcorn, because “Democratic mayors versus teachers unions” is shaping up to be the most entertaining political fight of the new year.
Well, second-most entertaining. Eric Adams versus Alvin Bragg over whether violent felons deserve prison time will be the most enjoyable.
Conservative reaction to this clip on social media last night was unanimous: The internal polling must be terrible.
— Forbes (@Forbes) January 6, 2022
She’s right on the science and right on the politics. Schools did receive an enormous amount of cash from the feds last year to help them prepare for the winter COVID surge. And the data consistently shows that schools have lower transmission rates of the virus than the wider community does, probably due to kids being less hospitable hosts for the virus. “I will not allow [the union] to take our children hostage,” Lightfoot vowed at one point during her presser. “I will not allow them to compromise the future of this generation of CPS students. That is not going to happen.”
But it is going to happen. The Chicago teachers union doesn’t care.
The city of Chicago called off school after the Chicago Teachers Union voted overwhelmingly Tuesday night to stay home, insisting on a return to remote learning during a winter surge in coronavirus infections. On Wednesday evening, the city announced schools would be closed a second day.
“The only thing we can control is whether we go into the buildings,” Jesse Sharkey, the union president, said Wednesday. “Right now, going into schools puts us at risk, puts students and families at risk, of contracting the coronavirus.”
He said teachers would not come back before Jan. 18 unless the surge in cases subsides or the union reaches an agreement with the city, chiefly on additional virus testing.
Lightfoot has filed an unfair labor practices complaint to try to force the teachers back to work. As for their demand that kids be tested for COVID before reentering classrooms, she’s offering a surprisingly conservative response. She won’t step on parents’ rights to decide what’s necessary for their children’s health: “We are not going to rob parents of their right and their obligation to tell us if they want testing or not on their children. It’s not going to happen. It’s morally wrong.”
The biggest political mystery of 2022: Who’ll switch parties and become a Republican first, Adams or Lightfoot?
Here’s the latest data from Burbio on school closures. The bad news is that more schools are shuttered right now than at any point since last summer:
The good news is that those 4,783 that are closed represent a small fraction of America’s nearly 100,000 schools, nearly all of which remain open. In fact, more than 10 percent of closures are concentrated in Chicago, which has had more than 600 schools shut because of the strike. Nationally, closures are focused in the upper midwest and northeast, which may limit the political damage to Democrats. If most kids are in school elsewhere in the country then the standoff in Chicago and other Democratic major cities about getting teachers back to class might remain a far-flung curiosity to most American voters.
Or will it? Voters in swing states might look at what’s happening to Lightfoot and treat it as a reason to vote Republican locally, just in case their own neighboring teachers union gets any funny ideas. The stakes for their children are high:
Elementary school students ended the 2020–2021 academic year about five months behind on reading and math skills, per a McKinsey report. That learning loss will worsen as COVID keeps interrupting school.
So many kids are isolated and out of school that it’s contributing to an escalating child mental health crisis in the U.S.
On top of that, the mounting stress and loss of productivity that working parents are dealing with is hurting the economy. Closing schools for COVID-19 could cost about $700 billion in lost revenue and productivity, according to a Barron’s analysis — a whopping 3.5% of GDP.
We’ll know if Lightfoot and Illinois’s Democratic governor are serious about getting public-school teachers back to class if and when they start talking about the nuclear option, which literally no one expects them to do. As it is, the longer this work stoppage drags on, the more perilous it becomes for Democrats. Officials like Biden, Lightfoot, and education secretary Miguel Cardona are saying all the right things about keeping schools open, but talk is cheap. If they pound the table and teachers continue to defy them and stay home, they’ll look impotent. The implicit message to voters: If you want someone to play hardball with goldbricking union members, elect a Republican.
Here’s Dr. Leana Wen urging teachers not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good in reopening schools. In lieu of an exit question, read this touching story about one teacher in Chicago who insisted on returning to class despite the union’s vote. He has cancer but he’s willing to take the risk for his students’ sake. Quote: “I just want to make my life relevant somehow, the thought that I can still be of service to my students and I can touch their lives and make a difference in their lives.”
Would it be ideal if all schools had daily tests & great ventilation? Sure, but that’s not reality. We cannot inflict further harm to an entire generation. This is not 2020: We have vaccines + masks, and Omicron is milder. Schools must be open. @ProfEmilyOster @biannagolodryga pic.twitter.com/kgllVcqqeh
— Leana Wen, M.D. (@DrLeanaWen) January 6, 2022
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