Congressman Keller highlights importance of safely re-opening schools during Congressional hearing

July 24, 2020
Press Release
“We owe this generation of students a well-rounded education”

Washington, D.C. – During Thursday’s House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education hearing, “Examining How to Overcome Obstacles to Safely Re-open Public Schools,” Congressman Fred Keller (R-PA) highlighted the importance of safely getting students back to school this fall.

 

Congressman Keller noted that Pennsylvania has not yet appropriated more than $1 million of federal COVID-19 relief funding that could be spent to help local school districts safely re-open in the fall and noted that scientists agree that the risks COVID-19 poses to adolescents is extremely low.

 

Pennsylvania has received almost $524 million for local educational agencies to address the impact of COVID-19, yet the Commonwealth has yet to spend the entirety of the state’s nearly $5 billion share of funding from the CARES Act.

 

“While the Pennsylvania General Assembly appropriated billions of federal CARES funding, $1.3 billion remains unspent in the Pennsylvania Treasury,” Congressman Keller told the Subcommittee. “I am eager to hear about how remaining CARES funding can be utilized to safely open schools and learn more about the specific actions schools are taking to make sure students, teachers, staff, and families can attend school safely in person this fall.”

 

Given that the risk of COVID-19 is low for adolescents, Congressman Keller asked Dr. Penny Schwinn, Commissioner of Education for the Tennessee Department of Education, if this knowledge makes the decision to re-open schools easier while protecting staff. 

 

“I have spent my career on supporting students in the most vulnerable populations because education is such a critical vehicle for them being able to support themselves for the rest of their lives,” Dr. Schwinn said. “Certainly, we know that protecting our adults allows us to open schools in a way that is safe and supportive of local communities and that will continue to be our priority.”

 

This week, Williamsport Area School District, located in Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District, outlined a health and safety plan to re-open schools in the fall.

 

NOTE: A full copy of Congressman Keller’s opening remarks can be found below.

 

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First, I want to thank the Chairman and Ranking Member, as well as the Subcommittee Chair and Ranking Chair for holding this critically important hearing today on how our nation can move forward with safely reopening schools. 

 

Additionally, I thank the witnesses for participating today and for offering their valued perspective and expertise. 

 

As a father of two and a proud grandfather, I am extremely concerned about the long-term impacts that COVID-19 has had on students as result of being out of the classroom for months at a time.

 

For example, the consulting company—McKinsey and Company—has projected that when all the impacts of COVID-19 are considered, students could fall an average of seven months behind academically. 

 

This is simply unacceptable. 

 

We owe this generation of students a well-rounded education that encompasses the educational, social, mental, and physical benefits that come with students attending school in person.

 

Additionally, I commend Congress for working together to provide schools with billions of dollars in relief funds. The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund authorized under the CARES Act, provided $13.2 billion in formula funding directly to states and school districts to help schools respond to COVID-19. 

 

My home state, Pennsylvania, received almost $524 million for local educational agencies to address the impact of COVID-19.  However, it is my understanding that not one State has spent the entirety of their funding under the CARES Act. 

 

While the Pennsylvania General Assembly appropriated $3.9 billion of federal CARES funding, $1.3 billion remains unspent in the Pennsylvania Treasury.

 

Across Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District, school districts are approving re-opening plans for the fall, working in conjunction with local school boards, administrators, parents, and state officials.

One central Pennsylvania school district surveyed parents and found that 60 percent favored a return to in-person schooling this fall.

 

I was thrilled to read this morning that the Williamsport Area School District, located in PA-12, has outlined a  thorough 3 educational phases plan to reopen schools in the fall that include a hybrid of in-person learning and remote learning based on the level of transmission risk.  

 

Today, I am eager to hear about how remaining CARES funding can be utilized to safely open schools and learn more about the specific actions schools are taking to make sure students, teachers, staff, and families can attend school safely and in person this fall.