In 2020 and 2021, Congress passed trillions in COVID-related stimulus funds, a good portion of which went to schools — but only if school officials aligned their policies with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID guidelines.
In this article, The Defender covers how federal money affected schools. We will cover the impact of federal money on hospitals in a separate article to follow.
In 2020 and 2021, Congress passed trillions in COVID-related stimulus through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act and the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act.
Sizeable portions of those funds went to schools.
Digging into the education allotment, the Tennessee network discovered public, charter and nonprofit private schools in the U.S. received nearly $190.5 billion during three rounds of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding (called ESSER I, II and III).
One of DePriest’s disquieting take-home messages is that this education lucre came with major strings attached — federal strings that are persuading ignominious school board members to adopt policies unfavorable and even dangerous to student health and well-being.
While DePriest characterized the stimulus bonanza as a “BIG carrot” for cash-strapped schools, that assessment may be too generous. If one examines the disturbing conditions attached to the U.S. Department of Education’s (DOE’s) dazzling largesse, the government billions seem closer to a godfather-like “offer they can’t refuse.”
The $190 billion ‘carrot’
On Jan. 18, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) crowed about its disbursement of the final chunk of ESSER III monies, claiming the funds were “critical” for addressing “recent challenges” such as the putative and much-ballyhooed Omicron variant.
In Tennessee, the state’s initial take from ESSER I was nearly $260 million, but ESSER II quadrupled that amount to over $1.1 billion. By ESSER III, Tennessee’s educational haul had reached almost $2.5 billion.
The school district encompassing Memphis received roughly three-quarters of a billion dollars, DePriest noted, while Nashville schools pocketed a cool half a billion.
Schools and COVID vaccines
In DePriest’s view, there’s a catch that explains why school boards in every state have been so coldly unresponsive to parental pleas to unmask their children and abandon other COVID restrictions.
The catch is that federal generosity for state educational agencies is contingent on states proving to DOE (in reports submitted twice a year through fall 2023) they are meeting requirements synced with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) “safety recommendations.”
The CDC’s aggressive “recommendations” include:
- Enforcing “universal and correct wearing of masks”
- Physically modifying schools to facilitate “distancing”
- Ensuring “respiratory etiquette” and handwashing (likely with carcinogenic sanitizers)
- Implementing strenuous cleaning protocols to maintain “healthy facilities”
- Facilitating contact tracing, “in combination with isolation and quarantine”
- Conducting testing (both screening and diagnosis), helped along by additional resources from a federal-CDC-Rockefeller Foundation partnership to “ensure that all schools can access and set up screening testing programs as quickly as possible”