The Trump administration is calling on Congress to appropriate $105 billion to provide financial assistance and incentives to help states reopen schools.
Of the $105 billion, $70 billion is intended for K-12 schools, the White House announced.
Vice President Mike Pence said that the administration is calling on Congress to authorize $105 billion to ensure that states have the resources to safely reopen schools.
“We believe that we can safely reopen our schools. We know that its best for our kids. We dont want them fall behind, academically,” Pence said at an open discussion at the White House on Wednesday. “But also, we dont want our kids to miss out on the counseling that they receive, special needs services, as well as all the nutrition programs that are available just at our schools.”
The open discussion at the White House, called “Kids First: Getting Americas Children Safely Back to School,” was attended by Trump, Pence, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, as well as a group of 10 parents, teachers, and health experts from across the country.
Attendees spoke in support of reopening schools and raised several concerns over the potential negative consequences of children not having the option to have in-person learning. They also talked about how best to reopen schools safely.
DeVos told attendees: “Students and their families cant be held captive to other peoples fears or agendas. We have got to ensure that families and parents have options that are going to work for their child and their childrens education.”
Pence said that giving the choice for parents and students wishing to return to schools for in-person learning is not just a priority for the well-being of the students, but also important for working families.
“Only about 20 percent of single parents are able to telework. And so, to open up America again, weve got to open up Americas schools. To put America back to work, weve got [to put] our kids back in the classroom,” he said.
So far, the Trump administration has provided $13 billion in federal funding that states can use under the CARES Act to support a safe reopening for K-12 education.
White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said that an official from Health and Human Services (HHS) told her that “only 4 percent” of the funds “has been tapped into.”
“They can use that to help them with the temperature checks, with the testing—however they wish to use it,” Conway noted of the funding. “So we would really implore those states and those local school districts to take advantage of the money that [the Trump administration] and others have already secured in a bipartisan fashion.”
“Overall, we know that the risk is low for kids in contracting and being hospitalized and, of course, the worst possible outcome, dying from COVID-19,” Conway said. “But the risk is very high if theyre locked down indefinitely.”
Addressing why “the risk is very high” in the case of an indefinite lockdown, Conway said, “The lack of digital assets was very obvious for many of our students; the lack of nutrition; the lack of social and emotional and mental well-being and development.”
“But also, we heard from many school administrators and teachers: Theyre concerned because roughly one out of five child abuse cases are detected in schools. So we have to also think about all that we dont know and all that is being lost for these children by keeping them locked down indefinitely.”
She pointed out that a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that about 65 percent of parents were concerned that their children will fall behind socially and emotionally if they dont return to school.
The White House said in a statement that “the unintended consequences of keeping schools closed could damage our childrens education for years to come and hinder our nations economic comeback.”
“Cancelling in-person classes and allowing only virtual learning disproportionally harms the education of lower income children,” the statement continued. “During school closures in the spring, students math progress in low-income zip codes decreased by roughly 50 percent and students in middle-income zip codes fell by a third.”
An analysis by consulting firm McKinsey found that if in-person classes dont resume until January 2021, Hispanic, black, and low-income students will lose 9.2, 10.3, and 12.4 months of learning, respectively.