If that money doesn’t come — and soon — in-school learning would last for only half of the school year, said John Evans, president of the San Diego school board. Then all students would return home for remote learning for the second part of the year. To stay open for the whole year and employ protective measures against the spread of the novel coronavirus, the district needs about $50 million from Congress, he said in an interview.
President Trump is now saying that he may cut funding for districts that don’t do what he wants: reopen schools full time, five days a week. He tweeted as much on Wednesday, saying: “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!”
If he were to favor with funding districts that reopen full time, that could help San Diego, which is planning to do just that. But many — if not most districts — are planning a hybrid model for the fall, which would entail students learning for a few days in school and a few days remotely at home each week.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made clear on Wednesday she is not impressed with hybrid models and wants students in school full time. “They must be open, and they must be fully operational,” she said Wednesday at the Education Department.
On Tuesday, she said at the White House: “It’s clear our nation’s schools must fully reopen and fully operate this school year. Anything short of that robs the students, not to mention taxpayers, of their futures.”
School districts around the country have been saying for months that if Congress doesn’t provide much more funding, they will not be able to reopen safely this fall. The money hasn’t come yet — and there’s no sign it will anytime soon.
Congress included more than $13.5 billion for K-12 schools in legislation that passed in March, but education leaders say that doesn’t come close to covering the cost of reopening schools with the added costs of covid-19 protective measures.
A Democratic-led House bill passed recently calls for $58 billion in new funding for K-12 schools — but the Trump administration and the Republican-led Senate are not moving as quickly.
Vice President Pence signaled the no-rush attitude on Wednesday during a briefing of the coronavirus task force he leads, held at the Education Department. Asked why the president was threatening to cut cash-starved districts, he said, “Let’s be clear: the Cares Act provided $13.5 billion to support education efforts in states in the midst of the pandemic. We will work with Congress. We expect there will be additional support there.”
The American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second-largest teachers union, on Tuesday launched a $1 million blitz of advertisements calling for more federal funding. The initiative is effectively a slam on the Senate for refusing to take up the funding issue now.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Education Committee, said recently he would support spending $50 billion to $75 billion to help schools, along with extra money for busing, but a spokesman in his office said it is unclear whether that would be solely for K-12 schools or would include colleges. He also wasn’t clear about when he would take up the issue in his committee.
At a recent House hearing on reopening schools, Rep. Virginia Foxx (N.C.), the ranking Republican on the House Education Committee, said there has not yet been an analysis of how federal aid provided in the Cares Act has worked.
“Yet here we are,” she said, “with Democrats pushing those same taxpayers to dole out more of their hard-earned money at a time when many Americans are tightening their belts.”
During the 2007-2009 recession, Congress provided more than $110 billion to K-12 schools, but educators say that wasn’t enough — and today there are still some states that spend less per student than they did before that economic downturn.
The Council of Chief State School Officers, a nonprofit organization that represents public officials who head state departments of elementary and secondary education, recently sent a letter to Congress estimating that the cost of safely reopening schools this fall is estimated to be between $158.1 billion and $244.6 billion.
The American Federation of Teachers says schools need an additional $116.5 billion to meet “public health, well-being and instructional needs of students, teachers and school staff in order to reopen safely.”
So how much does it really cost to reopen schools?
An exact amount is not known. But the Association of School Business Officials International and AASA/School Superintendents Association did an analysis on costs for an average school district: 3,659 students, eight buildings, 183 classrooms, 329 staff members and 40 buses, transporting at 25 percent capacity.
It found the cost for opening up completely under new safety guidelines could amount to $1,778,139. For larger districts — New York City schools, for example, have more than 1 million students — the costs would be dramatically higher.
Individual costs for the average district include $39,517 for hand sanitizers for classrooms and $10,534 for buses, $448,00 for additional custodial employees for increased cleaning and disinfecting of schools and buses, $400,000 to make sure there is at least one nurse in every public school, and $168,750 for resuming before- and after-school programs with social distancing. You can see the chart below for more details.