A group of eight Republican senators on Wednesday introduced a bill that would pull federal funding out of schools that are unwilling to reopen for in-person learning this spring.
The proposed legislation, known as Put Students First Act of 2021, would require K-12 schools to provide an in-person learning option by April 30, or lose their federal funding. Schools that already received their federal education funds or pandemic relief dollars but refuse to reopen would be required to give the money back.
Those withheld or returned federal funds, according to the bill, would be use by states to support school choice options for students impacted by school closures. If a state with shuttered schools chooses not to offer school choice options to their students, those funds would then be granted to states with the highest percentage of schools that offer in-person instruction.
The bill comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that schools reopen with safety measures such as face covering and social distancing. On the same day the bill was introduced, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a press conference that vaccination of teachers is “not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools” and that there is “increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen.”
“Now that leading health experts at the CDC are recommending that America’s schools be reopened as soon as possible if precautions are taken, teachers unions are fighting to stay out of the classroom,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) wrote in a statement. “Instead, they want to hold our students hostage for more federal funding despite Congress already having provided tens of billions of dollars for public K-12 schools.”
Earlier this week, thousands of Chicago public school teachers, backed by the teachers’ union, rejected the city’s order to return to in-person work. In Los Angles, the teachers’ union joined the school board to push against California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed school reopening plan, under which only schools that reopen for in-person learning could get their share of $2 billion in extra funding.
“President Joe Biden promised that within 100 days of becoming president all schools would be open. I agree with President Biden, all schools should be open,” Rubio wrote in a Fox News op-ed previewing the bill. “If a school continues to cave to the unions at the expense of their students, they should not receive funding.”
Rubio is joined by Sens. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).