Democrats, Republicans can't agree on school funding in newest COVID aid package

The COVID-19 relief plan could lead to more money for schools

March 1, 2021, 5:08 AM

Democrats and Republicans both agree children should be in school. However, the price tag for reopening schools in the midst of a pandemic looks very different depending on whom you ask.

Now that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released its guidance on getting students back to in-person learning, it’s up to localities to do so safely -- which Democrats said requires additional funds.

The Senate is expected to take up the Biden administration's major COVID-19 relief legislation in the coming days, following the passage in the House of Representatives early Saturday morning, ABC News previously reported, a plan that could lead to more money for schools.

Part of the legislation in the House Democrats' bill includes nearly $130 billion for schools to ensure a safe return to the classroom. These funds can go toward things like improving ventilation systems, buying personal protective equipment, and implementing social distancing, according to the House Education and Labor committee. Additionally, schools are required to save at least 20% of the money they are granted specifically to address learning loss.

“There's another thing that we're trying to get done, not only do we need to open the schools, we're asking them to do more than just open the schools, we're asking them to make up for lost ground,” House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott, D-Va., said on Friday ahead of the bill’s passage.

“That may require summer school extended days and everything else, which means they're gonna have to be spending more than they were spending before. And that takes more money,” he added.

But Republicans have argued that this is an unnecessarily steep cost for schools that already received two rounds of coronavirus funding, especially considering the money isn’t directly tied to schools reopening.

“They're saying they want to pass over $100 billion of new money that's not even tied to schools reopening," House Minority Whip Steve Scalise previously said on ABC News’ “This Week.”

"Let's target the money, but this idea that Washington should be giving out $100-plus billion of new money to schools and not even requiring them to reopen -- that's an insult to those children who are demanding they go back to school," Scalise said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky also pushed back against the large sum of relief money, arguing last month that there were billions of dollars “in the pipeline already.”

A group of several education groups last week sent a letter to members of Congress addressing this point, and said the money that was already issued has been “budgeted.”

“We are aware of the inaccurate notion that schools are not in need of additional funding because of the reported ‘spend’ rate of federal funding to date,” the letter from groups, including teachers unions and the superintendents association, read.

“In conversations with our respective memberships, they report that while the ‘spend rate’ may seem quite low to those unfamiliar with state and district school financial procedures and requirements, they have budgeted for every dollar they are scheduled to receive from the COVID relief bills and are still anticipating more significant costs they will be unable to meet without additional federal funds.”

Scott reiterated this point on Friday: “The fact that the money has not been spent does not mean that it hasn't all been obligated,” he said.

ABC News' Cheyenne Haslett contributed to this report.

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