Senate

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 Blunt (R-Mo.), one of the negotiators, told reporters. 

“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 Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows met with Blunt, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (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. 

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 DeVos 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 Pence 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 Thune (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.

Tags Betsy DeVos John Thune Lamar Alexander Mark Meadows Mike Pence Richard Shelby Roy Blunt Steven Mnuchin

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