Senate Republicans vote to let schools decide best option for fall, allocate $25 million for costs of safe reopening

(ST. PAUL, MN) – Today Senate Republicans passed a resolution to allow school districts to decide the best option for their students this fall. A bill to provide $25 million in grants to reopen schools was stopped when Senate Democrats refused to vote to bring the bill to the floor.

“Schools are essential. They are the great equalizer. Our 300 school districts and 100 charter schools are diverse in every way. It is local elected school boards that can best decide how and when schools should reopen. Local community leaders know the risks and resources and can best determine how to educate our students in the Fall. It is impossible for the governor to make a one-size-fits-all decision for more than 2,000 schools in our state,” said Senate Education Chair Carla Nelson. 

The resolution states that, for the purposes of emergency powers during the COVID pandemic, the Governor cannot make unilateral decisions to open or close schools. “Local control is paramount to safely reopening our schools,” said Sen. Nelson. “Some schools are small enough to accommodate social distancing and others can’t possibly find enough room to keep students and staff apart. Transportation needs, special education needs, and technology access will all be different in each district and this resolution empowers each district to decide what will work best for them this fall.” 

Recent studies have argued the benefit of reopening schools safely this fall is important for the overall well-being of our students. The American Association of Pediatrics has said, “The AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with the goal of having students physically present in school. The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020.” 

Parents have weighed in on the issue as well. Nine out of ten parents surveyed by Education Trust reporting that they were worried about their child falling behind due to COVID-related closures. The Minnesota Department of Education’s own survey found 64% of parents want students back in schools this fall.

“Many schools have been working diligently with teachers and parents to prepare, but they also can’t wait until the end of the month to decide what to do,” said Senator Michelle Benson. “Keeping students, teachers, and school staff safe is a priority, and there are many different ways for schools to innovate how they educate this fall.” Sen. Benson attempted to bring a bill with $25 million from the federal CARES funds in grants to schools to the floor. Senate Democrats refused to declare an emergency for the bill and approve the funds for use in schools immediately. Funds from the bill could be used for personnel and material costs to ensure ongoing student and staff safety and health and to ensure students receive basic and enriched educational services. “Innovation usually has a cost. These funds, had the bill been allowed to move forward, would have helped districts offset the costs that come from opening safely, which is what we all want: a safe reopening of schools this fall. Not allowing this bill to move forward makes safely reopening school more difficult.”

“The question here is, ‘Is it best for kids to be in school or not?’ I’m really in disbelief that Senate Democrats did not join with us to support local districts who want to do what’s best for the students this fall,” said Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka. “We have seen wildly different situations on the spread and consequences of COVID disease, but everyone suffering the same shutdowns and closures regardless of the state of COVID in your town and county. The resolution today simply recognized that not every school, every classroom, every district is the same. This is clear direction to the Governor: open up the schools safely, let the districts decide what’s best for them.”