The recent controversy surrounding the reopening of U.S. schools during the COVID-19 pandemic has placed former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Republicans on the same team against teacher unions. Bloomberg and Republicans have spewed rhetoric that exposes the anti-educator beliefs inherent to the oligarch and the GOP.
“It’s time for Joe Biden to stand up and to say, the kids are the most important things, important players here,” Bloomberg said during an interview on MSNBC. “And the teachers just are going to have to suck it up and stand up and provide an education.” This is not the first time Bloomberg has made an enemy of himself against teachers’ unions. In 2013, Bloomberg compared teacher unions to the National Rifle Association.
Bloomberg’s unwarranted advice to President Biden does not have much basis in the political reality of the moment. Presidents should never have to “stand up” to teacher unions. Instead, whoever the president is, regardless of party, must always be doubtfully allied with teacher unions.
There is nothing that the unions want more than to be included at the negotiating table. American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten published an article that laid out a plan for reopening schools. Teachers are yearning for the classroom, the only problem is lawmakers are not willing to make the investment to do so safely.
Carefully reopening all public schools is a massive task mainly because marginalized schools lack funding for resources required to follow health protocols. It is no surprise that the ninth richest person on the planet — who also made $6.8 billion since the COVID-19 pandemic started — is out of touch with the economic challenges that ill-funded schools face.
AFT has estimated that reopening schools would require $116.5 billion in federal funding. The price tag seems high, but dissecting the figure reveals essential costs such as personal protective equipment and rapid on-campus testing. Instead of fighting unions as Bloomberg urged, President Biden’s stimulus package includes $130 billion for K-12 schools.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) came to Bloomberg’s defense in an article he wrote for Fox News. Going further than Bloomberg, Rubio threatened to defund schools that do not offer in-person classes by April 30, 2021. “If a school continues to cave to the unions at the expense of their students, they should not receive funding.” Clearly, there is no other logical extension than Rubio’s to the dangers expressed in Bloomberg’s original comment.
The Republican Party has a long history of advocating against the interests of teacher unions. Under Trump, Senate Republicans voted mostly along party lines — with the exceptions of Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AL) — for the confirmation of Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary. Devos was a highly controversial pick since she lacked any background in education except the millions she has given to dark money groups that have a school privatization agenda. It has been a longstanding dream of the Republican Party to completely eliminate the education department.
Both Bloomberg and the Republican Party have a record of not standing up for teachers. When it comes to reopening schools for the nation’s children in a safe environment, teacher unions and educators should lead the way, not two failed presidential candidates.
Featured Illustration by Olivia Varnell