Ahead of State of the Union, House Republicans Slam Biden for Ignoring Learning Loss

President Biden Delivers His First State Of The Union Address To Joint Session Of Congress
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February 7, 2023

President Joe Biden is expected during the State of the Union to tout the trillions of dollars that his administration has spent on COVID relief. But House Republicans say the relief effort has little to show for it—especially when it comes to the disastrous impact school shutdowns had on students.

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R., N.C.), who chairs the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said she expects Biden "will refuse to mention … how his policies have failed students." 

"Rather than focusing on protecting the rights of workers, job creators, students, and parents, the president will talk out of both sides of his mouth, showcasing his administration's hypocrisy front and center for every American to see," she said in a statement.

Last year, Foxx and Rep. James Comer (R., Ky.), who chairs the Oversight Committee, sent letters to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona requesting documentation on more than $120 billion from Biden's American Rescue Plan in pandemic relief for public schools. The White House promised the funds would help hire additional tutors and provide more learning opportunities for students whose reading and math scores fell during the pandemic. Only 20 percent of those funds must "address learning loss," according to the Department of Education.

Foxx and Comer have since revealed that some districts used the money to push for "antiracist" and "implicit bias" training, instead of increased instructional hours. Other reports found that school boards purchased electric school buses—another Biden administration priority. Cardona never responded to the lawmakers.

The stimulus abuse could be a stumbling block for Biden, who on Friday attacked "extreme MAGA Republicans in the House" for their alleged fiscal irresponsibility.

"Jobs are up, wages are up, inflation is down, and COVID no longer controls our lives," Biden told attendees at a Democratic National Committee reception in Washington, D.C. "But now, the extreme MAGA Republicans in the House of Representatives have made it clear they intend to put it all at risk. They intend to destroy it."

The Education Department directed the Washington Free Beacon to its online portal showing COVID relief data, but declined to comment. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

The Department of Education reported in September that school closures caused students' test scores to fall dramatically between 2020 and 2022. The learning loss disproportionately affected poor, black, and Latino students, according to a 2022 Harvard study. COVID school closures caused "the largest increase in educational inequity in a generation," according to one of the study's authors.

Those findings cut against Biden's pledge to "advance equity in K-12 education" and could put pressure on the president amid an ongoing debt ceiling fight. Republican lawmakers have recently floated spending cuts for K-12 education, among other options, according to the Washington Post.

Freshman Rep. Byron Donalds (R., Fla.), who sits on the Oversight Committee, told the Free Beacon that if Democrats had been serious about redressing learning loss, they would have "put hard ties on the spending."

"They're not serious about the things that America is focused on—definitely not pandemic learning loss because if they were they would've got kids back in classrooms," he said. "Democrats don't want to actually put hard ties on the spending. They love it going to pet projects in these school districts."

Biden's pandemic relief is projected to fund the recruitment of 250,000 school officials, not all of whom have to be academic instructors.

"We spent billions of dollars on COVID relief," said Rep. Lisa McClain (R., Mich.), who sits on the Oversight and Education Committees. "And they forget about the duty they have to the American taxpayer. … Let's focus on some noncontroversial issues—perhaps math, perhaps reading—and see what we can do to be better."

The attacks from the right come as Biden faces dissent within his own party, including concerns about whether he could even mount a successful reelection campaign. Just 37 percent of Democrats want Biden to run for a second term, according to a recent Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll.

The conflict also underscores how the party has moved leftward in recent years. Donalds said he has tried to bargain with some of his Democratic colleagues, suggesting a compromise around trading housing voucher allotments for school choice vouchers. But they haven't been receptive.

"They're not serious about anything," he added, "except electric school buses—the vice president likes those a lot."