A partisan battle is brewing over whether to reopen the nation’s public schools in the coming weeks. The fight is likely to play a central role in the upcoming debate in Congress over the next round of coronavirus aid.
President Trump on Friday threatened to block federal funding to school systems that do not reopen in the fall, while Democrats say the Trump administration is putting lives at risk by trying to coerce schools to reopen while the virus is still spreading.
Trump tweeted on Friday a complaint voiced by many parents and children that distance learning provides only a fraction of the education received in classrooms. He attached a threat to withhold federal funding to school systems, a move that would deprive some states nearly 15% of their annual budget.
“Now that we have witnessed it on a large scale basis, and firsthand, Virtual Learning has proven to be TERRIBLE compared to In School, or On Campus, Learning,” Trump tweeted. “Not even close! Schools must be open in the Fall. If not open, why would the Federal Government give Funding? It won’t!!!”
Democrats say school officials must be assured in-classroom learning can happen without spreading the coronavirus, which is surging in several parts of the country.
“This administration seems to be turning its back on science and, instead, saying open up, take a risk, open up the schools, open up the schools.” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat. “Everybody I know wants to open up the schools. Indeed, a large percentage, overwhelmingly, the teachers want to open up the schools, but it has to be safe for the children, and to be safe for the children, we must attack this coronavirus, we must kill it off.”
Republicans are largely siding with the president and are making the case that schools must do everything possible to begin in-class learning by the fall, pointing out that distance learning has not provided an adequate education to many students and has left children isolated and, in some cases, endangered at home.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday said he stands by his order for all of Florida’s 74 school districts to open five days a week beginning in August. Local school officials in Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach counties, where the coronavirus has surged, may not heed his order, however.
“I have no doubt we can do it safely,” DeSantis said on Friday.
The House Freedom Caucus, a faction of conservative Republicans who largely side with Trump, called on schools to reopen at a press conference outside the Capitol on Thursday, arguing there are more risks to children who are forced to remain at home.
“The bottom line is that it is safe for children to go back to school,” said Rep. Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican who is also a physician. “It is not safe for them to remain at home, they’re probably much safer in school than they are at home in terms of getting this disease or having this disease spread to them.”
Children have comprised a tiny fraction of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, and children are considered by some to be at low risk of transmitting the disease. Schools in Europe have reopened without widespread reinfection, Republicans have noted.
But the risk remains uncertain, and teachers and administrators would be far more vulnerable to catching the virus, particularly in a classroom, critics of reopening argue.
While Trump was tweeting a threat to withhold federal funding from shuttered public systems, education unions, which largely back Democrats, co-signed a statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics rejecting a federal order to reopen schools and criticizing Trump’s threat to withhold federal funding.
“Schools in areas with high levels of COVID-19 community spread should not be compelled to reopen against the judgment of local experts,” union and AAP officials wrote in the statement. “A one-size-fits-all approach is not appropriate for return to school decisions.”
The group said reopening public schools safely “will clearly require substantial new investments in our schools and campuses.”
They called on Congress to pass additional federal funding for public schools.
Both the GOP-led Senate and the Democratic-controlled House said a new round of federal coronavirus aid is likely and the two parties will begin negotiating when they return from a recess in July.
Democrats plan to push for additional school funding, while Republicans in the Senate said they won’t agree to any new spending unless it adds lawsuit liability protections, including for schools.
Senate Democrats recently introduced a measure to provide $430 billion in federal educational aid, including $175 billion for K-12 schools and another $130 billion for colleges and universities.
The measure includes provisions Republicans are likely to reject, such as a policy rider that would block Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos from issuing “micro-grants” to non-public education groups.
DeVos announced the grants in April in response to the coronavirus school closures “for states to use to create adaptable, innovative learning opportunities for K-12 and postsecondary learners,” outside of the public system.
Sen. Patty Murray, of Washington, who is the top Democrat on the Senate Committe on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, said the Democratic measure would prevent DeVos, “from using funds meant for public schools to support her school privatization agenda.”
The post Democrats and Republicans in Congress spar over school reopenings appeared first on Washington Examiner.