GOP Relief Bill: Schools Would Lose Two-Thirds of Aid Money if They Don’t Physically Reopen

GOP Relief Bill: Schools Would Lose Two-Thirds of Aid Money if They Don’t Physically Reopen
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speaks to the press in Washington on July 21, 2020. (Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)
Bill Pan

Schools that don’t plan to physically reopen, or at least offer some in-person learning in the fall, would lose two-thirds of the relief money set aside for K-12 education under Senate Republicans’ relief bill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on July 27 unveiled the much-anticipated HEALS Act, which would provide $70 billion to K-12 public and private schools, as well as $5 billion in funds for governors to spend on K-12 and higher education.

According to Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Miss.), who crafted the HEALS Act’s education provision, a third of the $70 billion relief fund would go to all schools, regardless of whether they plan to bring students back to classroom or not. The remaining two-thirds, however, would be available only for schools with a state-approved physical reopening plan.

While making it clear that most of the relief money will be directed toward schools that are set to fully reopen, the act doesn’t specify whether schools that reopen with a mix of in-person and online learning could still get their cut.

The act would also grant schools with protections from legal liability, a measure championed by McConnell to discourage “insubstantial lawsuits relating to COVID-19” while “preserving the ability of individuals and businesses that have suffered real injury to obtain complete relief.”

The qualification requirements laid out in the HEALS Act are in line with President Donald Trump’s push to have schools reopen this fall. Earlier this month, Trump threatened to cut off funding for those that don’t.

“In Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and many other countries, SCHOOLS ARE OPEN WITH NO PROBLEMS,” he wrote on Twitter. “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!”

Democrats, on the other hand, voiced strong opposition to tying K-12 education relief funds to school reopening. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the highest-ranking Democrat on the Senate education committee, said last week that Republican lawmakers were “using student safety as a bargaining chip.”

“Democrats have a plan to give schools the resources they need to keep their campuses safe and to keep students learning, whether in-person or online, while the president is irresponsibly trying to bully schools into reopening no matter the risk,” Murray said. “I hope Senate Republicans don’t stoop to that level just because the president wants to.”

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