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It's NOT the economy stupid! It's kids being isolated at home/away from school!

James Carville, Bill's Clinton's campaign strategist famously pointed out that the economic downturn was going to propel his man to the presidency. Today, Republicans are going to ride the wave of educational discontent. The campers are not happy!

Covid-19 School Closures Reignite Political Jockeying Ahead of Midterms

Republicans see Biden’s education record as providing an opening with voters; Democrats say GOP opposed relief funding for schools last year

By Natalie Andrews, WSJ

Jan. 8, 2022 9:00 am ET

WASHINGTON—Republicans are testing out new lines of attack related to the new year’s school shutdowns, with party officials seeing Democrats’ record on Covid-19 education policy giving them an opening to build their war chests and sway voters in the midterms.

School closures and frustrations with remote learning played a significant role in Republicans’ victory last year in Virginia, when Glenn Youngkin won the governor’s mansion. Now, following a wave of temporary closures nationwide due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, Republicans are targeting what they say is Democrats’ mismanagement of the outbreak.

Democrats respond that they are committed to in-person education, citing the Covid-19 relief funding they passed over unanimous GOP opposition and stressing that most schools opened this past year, fulfilling a pledge made by President Biden. They say that many canceled school days and shifts to remote learning resulted from staffing issues due to illness, a contrast from the 2020-21 school year, when unions clashed with local leaders over safety protocols.

In recent days, the Iowa Republican Party has sent out a fundraising email asking people to “chip in $10 or more right now to stand with State Republicans and help keep our schools and communities open.” Republicans are also targeting Democrats in competitive House districts, including Rep. Elissa Slotkin in Michigan. A recent fundraising email from House Republicans’ campaign arm asked: “Will Elissa Slotkin demand that schools reopen?”

Families who rely on free lunch programs and benefits provided by schools can miss out in school closures, which creates “an opportunity for Republican candidates to reach out to those communities…and maybe have people who haven’t historically voted for Republicans give them a second look,” said GOP consultant Jason Roe, who is advising state-Sen. Tom Barrett, Ms. Slotkin’s Republican opponent.

Ms. Slotkin said most closures in her area are due to staffing shortages and positive Covid-19 tests. She added that “while we all have to follow CDC guidelines in those instances, we need our state and local governments to be doing everything in their power to keep our schools open and safe.”

Democrats currently control the House 221 to 212, and Republicans are seen as having a strong chance to take back the chamber, with President Biden’s approval numbers weighing on the party. The Democratic-controlled 50-50 Senate is also up for grabs, along with about a half-dozen competitive governor races.

Around the country, more than 5,200 schools shifted to remote learning or closed for at least one day this past week, according to data company Burbio Inc. Most of the school closures were due to Covid-19 cases among staff, said Burbio, which tracks K-12 school closures in districts nationwide. One notable expectation was Chicago, where the public schools closed after the teachers union voted to stop providing in-person instruction amid a standoff with city leaders over Covid-19 protocols.

Education emerged as a key issue in some competitive races last year. Mr. Youngkin won the closely fought Virginia race after campaigning on schools, tapping into some parents’ feelings that they had been shut out of decisions on race in the curriculum, Covid-19 precautions and academic standards.

“It allowed us to be competitive on territory where Republicans are not normally competitive,” said Devin O’Malley, a Republican strategist who advised Mr. Youngkin’s campaign.

Democrats say their broader policy is on track: Vaccinations are now available to teachers and students, and the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief law, passed in March 2021, included $130 billion in funding for schools. It paid for reducing class sizes, improving ventilation and gave an additional $10 billion for testing.

“That money went out to the states. And the states and the school districts have spent this money well—many of them. But, unfortunately, some haven’t,” Mr. Biden said this week. “So I encourage the states and school districts to use the funding that you still have to protect your children and keep the schools open.”

Mary Wall, senior policy adviser to the White House Covid Response Team, said this has been a top concern for the president, noting that when Mr. Biden took office, 46% of schools were open. That percentage rose to 99% in December.

“It is very difficult to make the argument that this is not a priority for the president,” she said.

Sen. Rick Scott (R., Fla.) tweeted, “ Joe Biden said he was going to ‘shut down the virus.’ All he’s done is shut down our schools,” referring to a campaign promise.

It isn’t known how long the current surge of cases will last or just how widespread the disruptions will be. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its Covid-19 quarantine and isolation guidance for K-12 schools, relaxing isolation and quarantine guidelines. The CDC has also endorsed the “test-to-stay” model in which students and staff can test frequently in lieu of quarantine.

To help combat Omicron, the Biden administration is opening up more Covid testing sites and delivering 500 million Covid tests to Americans. WSJ’s Daniela Hernandez breaks down why testing is still a pain point in the U.S., two years into the pandemic.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said Republicans’ renewed focus on school closures was driven by a need to deflect from the anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by supporters of former GOP President Donald Trump. She applauded the aid that had been sent from Washington but said more needs to be done to address teacher and bus driver shortages.

“I think where Democrats go wrong is they don’t lean into the frustration” of parents and teachers, said Ms. Weingarten. “People are hurting,” she said.

Mr. Biden has close ties to the teachers unions, which are top donors to Democratic groups that will support candidates this fall in the midterms. Ms. Wall said the unions were but one of a number of stakeholders with which the administration engages, with others including school superintendents and principals.

Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, the chairman of the House Republicans campaign arm, called on Democrats to return donations from teachers unions.

Democrats point the finger back at Republicans for opposing vaccine mandates and other steps designed to contain the virus, and reiterate that Republicans didn’t vote for pandemic aid money for schools in March.

“It’s kind of rich that they are now going after anybody about not keeping schools open when they didn’t even help,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.), chair of the Senate education panel.

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