For months now, the extraordinary challenges of schooling during the coronavirus pandemic have dominated life in communities large and small across the United States, yet the topic has not been at the forefront of the presidential campaign.
Communities are battling over whether and how to reopen schools closed since March. Superintendents are warning of drastic budget cuts on the horizon. Teachers’ unions are calling for standardized tests to be canceled for a second straight year. And millions of children are learning remotely — with little known about the long-term effects on their intellectual growth.
Yet none of this has been a big campaign talking point for either President Trump or former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
“It should really be a pivotal topic,” said Kisha Hale, principal of the upper grades at Eagle Academy Public Charter School in Washington.
Just this week, parents in one major city school system — Boston’s — had hopes dashed that their pre-K and kindergarten children might soon find themselves back in the classroom. With cases rising, the city put a hold on its school reopening plans and even ended what little in-person teaching there already was, for so-called high-needs students.
It was a microcosm of the disarray across the country as school districts try to get back to normal, or something resembling it. Several recent polls have suggested that the issue is a leading concern for many voters.
With the lives of schoolchildren upended across the country, the presidential campaign’s lack of focus on the issue has frustrated parents and educators alike.
The subject of school reopening is not a major theme of either candidate’s ad campaigns, and it got less than a minute of airtime at the first debate between Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump last month. Nor is it among the topics that Kristen Welker of NBC News plans to question them on at Thursday’s debate, though “Fighting Covid-19” is.
To the dismay of parents and educators, the discussion has been limited partly because states and local districts have a larger role than the federal government in running — and funding — schools.
When Mr. Trump brings up schools at rallies, he can generally be counted on to say that he will fight for school choice and protect charter schools. And he has consistently called for schools to reopen, threatening at one point to withhold federal funds from districts that resist. But he has said little to nothing about the role of federal funding in helping districts reopen safely.
Mr. Biden has presented ideas on how and when school districts should reopen. But he has not addressed the divisions that exist within his own party about what conditions need to be in place before sending students and teachers back to classrooms.
Nor has either campaign put forth ideas on improving remote learning, or on how colleges should handle the return to campuses — deeply relevant issues to huge slices of the electorate.