GOP-White House agree to $105 billion in coronavirus aid for schools

GOP-White House agree to $105 billion in coronavirus aid for schools
© Bonnie Cash

The White House and Senate Republicans have agreed to provide $105 billion for schools, part of which will be tied to the schools holding in-person classes, as part of a forthcoming GOP coronavirus relief package. 

The proposal, which is expected to be released Thursday, will divide the money up by providing $70 billion for K-12 schools, $30 billion for colleges and $5 billion for governors to give to either, largely lining up with what Senate GOP negotiators pitched earlier this week.  

The bill will tie half of the K-12 money to schools that re-open for in-person classes, while all schools will have access to the other half and the $30 billion for colleges will not be tied to in-person classes, Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden sets new vaccine mandate as COVID-19 cases surge Former Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon passes on Senate campaign The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands MORE (R-Mo.), one of the negotiators, told reporters. 

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"Half of that will go to every school on a per capita basis, the other half will go to schools that will have more expenses because they're going back to a traditional school setting," Blunt said.  

The deal came after Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Biden rallies Senate Dems behind mammoth spending plan Mnuchin dodges CNBC questions on whether Trump lying over election Democrats justified in filibustering GOP, says Schumer MORE and White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsTrump takes two punches from GOP Watchdog urges Justice to probe Trump, Meadows for attempting to 'weaponize' DOJ Washington Post calls on Democrats to subpoena Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Meadows for testimony on Jan. 6 MORE met with Blunt, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden sets new vaccine mandate as COVID-19 cases surge Senate passes .1 billion Capitol security bill Democrats ramp up pressure for infrastructure deal amid time crunch MORE (R-Ala.) and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderAuthorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate The Republicans' deep dive into nativism Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain MORE (R-Tenn.) on Wednesday evening. 

"I think we feel very good, where we've ended up with numbers and ... we're looking forward to passing a bill and getting across the finish line," Meadows said after the meeting.  

Alexander added that the focus of the negotiations was about trying to "make it possible for our school and colleges to open safely with as much physical presence for students as possible." 

How to provide help for schools has been a running point of contention, and is likely to be a key point of the negotiations with Democrats in coming weeks. 

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The administration views the resumption of in-person classes as a top priority. Trump previously threatened to defund schools that did not reopen for fall classes.

"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!" he tweeted earlier this month. 

Education Secretary Betsy DeVosBetsy DeVosBiden Education Department hires vocal proponent of canceling student debt Erik Prince involved in push for experimental COVID-19 vaccine: report Biden administration reverses Trump-era policy that hampered probes of student loan companies MORE appeared to echo that telling Fox News that "if schools aren’t going to reopen and not fulfill that promise, they shouldn’t get the funds."  

But schools are having to grapple with how to hold in-person classes, or if they should hold them at all, amid a spike in coronavirus cases across the country. Some school districts have already said they will hold virtual classes, or some combination of in-person and distance learning.

Other administration officials including Mnuchin and Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceOfficers' powerful Capitol riot testimony underscores Pelosi's partisan blunder RealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Want to improve vaccine rates? Ask for this endorsement MORE focused more on trying to incentivize schools to hold classes in person. 

"As we work with Congress on the next round of state support, we’re going to be looking for ways to give states a strong incentive and an encouragement to get kids back to school," Pence said during a White House event earlier this month. 

GOP senators also quickly balked at the idea of tying all of the education assistance to schools resuming in-person classes, arguing that schools would still have costs they needed help covering even if they were doing virtual learning. 

“I just don't think you can come up with a national federal policy that’s a one size fits all. The circumstances are very different,” Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate votes to take up infrastructure deal Senators say they have deal on 'major issues' in infrastructure talks Senators reach billion deal on emergency Capitol security bill MORE (R-S.D.) told reporters earlier this week when asked about tying the education funding to schools reopening for in-person classes.

Brett Samuels contributed.