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Reopen based on safety, not money

Some ideas -- no matter how politically expedient they may be -- are just the wrong thing to do. Dangling financial carrots in front of schools to get them to herd their students back to school this fall is one of them.

Throughout the several-week debate on a second coronavirus pandemic economic relief package, the Trump Administration and Capitol Hill Republicans have been touting the idea that public schools should be given more money if they get kids back in the classroom, despite pandemic data in some locales that suggest that could be about the worst thing to do. It’s purely a political move, as the president’s re-election chances hinge, in part, on how the public perceives his administration has handled the pandemic. Having schools filled with smiling children wearing new clothes and sneakers come September would be just what the election doctor ordered.

In no way, though, should local school officals’ decisions on how to repoen their schools be influenced by either the promise of more generous federal funding or the threat of lost dollars from Washington. Those decisions should be made first and foremost by what is best for the students’ and staffs’ health, without a second thought given to what financial implications might follow. Schools have enough troubles this fall without having to worry that they’ll lose the precious few dollars they already have to perform their functions if they choose teacher and student safety over the budget.

What the government could do to make sure schools stay open -this year and every other year -- is to increase funding for broadband communications capabilities to rural areas so rural districts such as Greenwood can be sure all of their families have access so students can learn online if the necessity arises, as it did last year. What the federal and state governments could do is ease the required testing burden on schools so they can spend more time educating and less time having students fill in ovals with #2 pencils. What the government can best do this fall is leave schools alone to make the reopening decisions that best fit their needs and their own local virus situations without using them as pawns in an election year. And that goes for both presidential candidates.

Republicans have contended -rightly so -- that children are best served, academically and emotionally, when they are in school. That’s a no-brainer, and few among the citizenry would argue that a full return to in-person education is not the best option. To achieve that, however, with due disregard for health, and to encourage it with money, well, that’s not an approach that considers the best interests of all.

Members of the TRG editorial Board include Publisher Kris O’Leary, Editor Dean Lesar, and Carol O’Leary.