President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are threatening to cut federal funding for schools that elect not to fully reopen come the start of the school year this fall.
In a tweet Wednesday morning, the president wrote: “In Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and many other countries, SCHOOLS ARE OPEN WITH NO PROBLEMS. The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!”
Trump added in a separate tweet his displeasure with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance on reopening schools in the fall, calling it “impractical” and “expensive.”
The CDC guidelines suggest virtual classes and activities, modified seating layouts, sneeze guard installations, and separated lunch times, among other things, in order to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
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The president’s comments came alongside a similar message from DeVos Tuesday night when the secretary spoke with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson about what the federal government could do to make sure kids return to classrooms in the coming months.
DeVos confirmed to Carlson that she is “very seriously” considering withholding federal funds from schools that remain physically closed.
“Kids have got to continue learning,” she said. “Schools have got to open up, there has got to be concerted effort to address the needs of all kids, and adults who are fearmongering and making excuses simply have got to stop doing it and turn their attention on what is right for students and for their families.”
DeVos did note, however, that the bulk of funding for public schools across America does not come from the federal level, but from the state and local levels — “in excess of 90%,” she said.
Though it may be a small percentage, federal funding for K-12 schools is still significant. According to Politico, it “includes billions for low-income schools and special education.” So by withholding funding, the Trump administration would certainly heap pressure on school districts across the country to reopen.
A national consensus on reopening schools has yet to develop, as several states, especially across the South and West regions of the country, have experienced a surge in confirmed COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.
Some state leaders, such as the education commissioner in Florida who ordered all schools to open full-time come August, are pushing for full reopening, while others are more wary.
Top public health expert Dr. Anthony Fauci indicated in early June that it was time to start thinking about reopening schools, arguing that saying we “shouldn’t open schools” is “a bit of a reach.” But that was before the recent surge.
Fauci appeared to change tune Tuesday — though not commenting specifically on schools — when he said, “the current state [of the virus spread] is really not good … we are still knee deep in the first wave.”