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National Teachers Union Urges Congress, Rubio, To Back More Coronavirus Funding For Schools

Miami-Dade teachers attend a town hall with then-presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke hosted by the national union American Federation of Teachers in June 2019. The union's president, Randi Weingarten, has been sharply critical of Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Jessica Bakeman
Miami-Dade teachers attend a town hall with then-presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke hosted by the national union American Federation of Teachers in June 2019. The union's president, Randi Weingarten, has been sharply critical of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

A national union for educators, school personnel, and nurses is calling on members of Congress to get back to Washington and fund schools. 


Congress is expected to reconvene this coming Monday after a Fourth of July recess.


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A new $1 million national ad campaign from the American Federation of Teachers pressures Congress to support more money to help schools reopen safely – and urges people in Florida to call Sen. Marco Rubio.

"We can't afford for our children's education to be another victim of the coronavirus. Tell your senator to come back to Washington and support emergency education funding," the ad says.In the Florida-focused version of the video campaign, it urges people to contact Rubio. The adis running on outlets like Fox, MSNBC, and CNN. Rubio's aides did not respond to WLRN's requests for comment by the time of publication.


"We think that Sen. Rubio will be more persuaded than Sen. Scott," said Randi Weingarten. She is the president of the union.


The AFT has calculated that schools across the country will need more than $116 billion in addition to their regular funding, to keep up with safety guidelines for the virus – things like making more space for social distancing and buying enough personal protective equipment. 


"We need to also make sure that we have a plan for reopening school safely, that prevents the virus spread, and we need the resources to do that," Weingarten said. "We need more than the HEROES Act but the HEROES Act is an absolutely vital first step." 


The U.S. House may have passed the next round of stimulus packages — the HEROES Act — but it can't become a reality without the Republican Senate.


Given Florida's surges in COVID-19 cases, Weingarten compared Florida to her home state,  New York. Weingarten was on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's reopening task force, and criticized Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for his response to the pandemic early on. 


Read More: National Union Leader Representing Teachers, Nurses Criticizes DeSantis' Coronavirus Response


"Your governor scoffed at my governor in March and April when we were going through those deaths and that surge. ... The plan that Gov. Cuomo released has as much potency for Florida as it has for New York, because what we need to do first and foremost, is you need to have a litmus test about the amount of COVID-19 in the community," she said. 


In Broward County, the start of school is coming fast, on August 19. 


President of the Broward Teachers Union, Anna Fusco, said that the majority of teachers surveyed in the union are supportive of starting the school year online. 


"We did our own survey and 70 percent said that they feel, because of what's happening with the virus, that we should continue online, and are willing to get the extra training to get themselves prepared to do the video conferencing ... the office hours, just the solid communication with the parents and the students," Fusco said.  


She said after the rushed closures in the spring, there has been time to improve procedures for what online school in the fall could look like. 


"With this serious, serious increase in the coronavirus … right now unless something changes the recommendation is to start online," Fusco said. "Even though they are going to be at home, or out of the physical school site — that instruction, teaching, interaction is going to happen. Kids are still going to get fed. Social, emotional components are going to be met."


Broward County School Superintendent Robert Runcie announced earlier in a video of his own this week that his official recommendation to the school board is to begin the new school year online.

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Caitie Switalski is a rising senior at the University of Florida. She's worked for WFSU-FM in Tallahassee as an intern and reporter. When she's in Gainesville for school, Caitie is an anchor and producer for local Morning Edition content at WUFT-FM, as well as a digital editor for the station's website. Her favorite stories are politically driven, about how politicians, laws and policies effect local communities. Once she graduates with a dual degree in Journalism and English,Caitiehopes to make a career continuing to report and produce for NPR stations in the sunshine state. When she's not following what's happening with changing laws, you can catchCaitielounging in local coffee shops, at the beach, or watching Love Actually for the hundredth time.