Biden Seeks Chicago Schools Opening as Democrats See Risk
(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden’s administration urged Chicago’s mayor and teachers union to strike a deal to return children to classrooms as the high-profile dispute undercuts his push to keep schools open across the nation.
“The president’s been very clear, as we have been clear: We are on the side of schools being open,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday, asked about the standoff in Chicago. “We will continue to be in touch with local leaders in Chicago to work to get their schools open.”
Late Monday night, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools had agreed to resume in-person classes on Wednesday. “After a productive day at the bargaining table, I am pleased to report, CTU will end their work stoppage,” she said on Twitter. The union’s members must still vote on the agreement.
The city’s battle over reopening comes as school districts, teachers, parents and politicians across the U.S. grapple with record coronavirus cases, fueled by the more contagious omicron variant. Biden has pushed to open schools, saying they’re safe if mitigation measures are taken and if those eligible get vaccinated.
Chicago Public Schools canceled classes again on Monday amid the dispute between Lightfoot and the teachers union over mitigation efforts, namely testing. The closing marks the fourth straight academic day that the approximately 330,000 students in the nation’s third-largest district weren’t in school.
At least 5,409 schools had canceled class or switched to virtual learning for at least one day last week, more than triple the count at the end of December, according to data from Burbio, which tracks closures. The U.S. has about 100,000 public schools, leaving the White House to say it’s only a slim minority that have not reopened.
The shutdowns are about to ease as more schools are set to reopen in-person this week.
School closures could signal political peril for the Democrats and Biden.
“Suburban voters who Democrats want to hold onto are getting frustrated at the lack of consistency,” said Michael Hartney, an assistant professor of political science at Boston College. “Districts that swing plus-five one way or another are places where Democrats can ill-afford to alienate suburban voters.”
If the pandemic keeps causing schools to close or go remote, that’s going to contribute to a widespread sense of anger which will hurt Democratic and Republican incumbents alike, Democratic strategist Doug Herman said. “If people’s lives are still being upended at levels we’re seeing today, then there’s going to be some political penalties meted out by the voters,” he said.
The American Rescue Plan included $130 billion in financing to safely reopen schools, including $5 billion directed to Illinois, Psaki said. The administration is in regular touch with the offices of the mayor and governor, as well as the union, she said.
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