Editor’s note: U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor this month:
“This pandemic has forced Americans to confront numerous and compounding tragedies.
“Almost 450,000 Americans have been killed. Millions of livelihoods have been upended.
“And millions of American kids, especially those who attend public school, have been robbed of an entire year – and counting – of proper school.
“Despite heroic efforts from students, parents and teachers, so-called remote learning has proven a poor substitute for the real thing.
“Research suggests that even if the average remote-learning student had gotten back in the classroom last month, they’d already have missed multiple months’ worth of learning compared to a normal year.
“Forty percent of high schoolers in St. Paul now have failing grades. In Houston, it’s 40% of all students. Tampa’s school district has reportedly just lost track of thousands of kids altogether.
“And this pain isn’t spread equally.
“The worst has fallen on the most vulnerable – including lower-income households, students of color and students with special needs and their families.
“The fallout isn’t just academic. Replacing the structure, friendships and activities of school with isolated screen time has predictably caused spikes in mental health concerns.
“Schools normally keep an eye on kids with challenging home lives and are too often the most reliable source of hot meals. And on and on.
“We know with certainty now that K-12 schooling cannot move online indefinitely like a white-collar workplace. It’s more like regular medical care – something that can be postponed a few weeks in a pinch, but which our society really cannot do without.
“And some families aren’t having to. Many private and parochial schools have been in person since the fall. Many European countries have kept kids in school nearly this whole time.
“But in the places across America where public education depends on the whims of powerful public-sector unions, the best interests of children have often come last.
“As the months have rolled by, and the data have poured in, it’s become clear that schools can open safely.
“Just last week, CDC researchers affirmed, quote, ‘with proper prevention efforts ... we can keep transmission in schools and educational settings quite low.’
“This confirms what scientists were observing as far back as October, when it was reported, quote, ‘transmission by young children to adults seems to be negligible as long as safety measures are in place.’
“Dr. Anthony Fauci, whose expertise was supposed to guide the Biden administration’s whole approach, said last week, quote, ‘we can keep the children in school and get them back to school safely.’
“An administration that put facts and science first would be conducting a full-court press to open schools.
“Federal funding is no obstacle here. That’s more goalpost-moving. Congress has poured more than $110 billion into making education safe.
“As of last week, states and school districts had only spent about $4 billion of the roughly $68 billion we set aside for K-12 schools. That leaves $64 billion in the pipeline already.
“And remember, science tells us that schools are largely made safe with simple precautions.
“Science is not the obstacle. Federal money is not the obstacle. The obstacle is a lack of willpower.
“Not among students. Not among parents. Just among the rich, powerful unions that donate huge sums to Democrats and get a stranglehold over education in many communities.
“Apparently Big Labor’s talking points have already displaced Dr. Fauci as the White House’s go-to source.
“The president’s chief of staff keeps saying we need even more massive federal funding before teachers can go back. There’s no scientific basis for that.
“The goalpost-moving doesn’t stop with money. In several places, these unions sought to elbow toward the front of the line for vaccinations – only to turn around and say, thanks for those vaccines, but don’t think these will necessarily get our folks back in the classroom anytime soon.
“Too often, local officials just roll over and submit to these tactics.
“In my hometown of Louisville, the largest school district in the state has a union-funded board of education vice chair.
“He’s now saying that even if all school personnel get vaccines, he’d still be reluctant to open schools.
“In San Francisco, the 28-year-old board of education president argued a few days ago that vulnerable kids aren’t really missing out on learning, they’re just learning different things ... and it’s the system’s fault for not measuring all the valuable cultural experiences they’ve had while stuck at home.
“Families are losing patience with this nonsense, and fast. We could not function with remote police or remote firefighters or remote dental surgeons and we’d never pretend otherwise.
“Kids, parents, and a lot of talented teachers have given online learning their all. But we will be deluding ourselves if we continue to accept this pale shadow of proper schooling when all the science points the other way.
“No more goalpost-moving. States and districts have got to follow the science and get American education back on track.”