DeVos: Parents could use US education funds elsewhere if pandemic closes schools

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Trump administration could allow families to use federal education funding elsewhere if local public school does not open during coronavirus pandemic, US Secretary of Education said Thursday as the Trump administration seeks to pressure states and cities to fully resume in person.

“If schools don’t reopen, we are not suggesting withdrawing education funds, but rather allowing families … (to) take that money and determine where their children can be educated if their schools refuse to ‘to open. Betsy DeVos told Fox News in an interview.

DeVos, a supporter of private and religious education who long pushed the “choice of school”, gave no details in terms of administration.

American schools are scrambling to prepare for the next school year as the pandemic spreads nationwide, exceeding 3 million confirmed cases. President Donald Trump has called for the schools to reopen, but there is no federal plan to coordinate the effort.

Local administrators must weigh the needs of children and families as well as teachers and staff. In addition to health problems, the economic consequences are considerable. Many working parents depend on schools for child care and education.

Trump, who made the economy a major problem before the November 3 presidential election, threatened on Wednesday to cut funding to schools and criticized his own administration’s guidelines for schools to reopen as “impractical” and “dear”.

Vice President Mike Pence later said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would clarify the directions next week.

CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield asked on Thursday whether the agency was taking a political direction to change its advice after criticism from Trump, told ABC News that the agency was not revising its guidelines but that it “would provide additional information”.

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It was unclear how the administration planned to redirect federal education funds. The US Congress would have to approve any change in appropriations, which would likely face resistance from the Democrats who control the House of Representatives.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said everyone wanted to open schools “but it has to be safe for children.”

Most public schools are managed and funded by local governments, with additional funding from the federal government. State and city budgets are hemorrhaging due to the economic downturn during the pandemic.

Pence told reporters on Wednesday that the administration would work with Congress, which is weighing up another coronavirus aid package, to urge states to “bring children back to school”.

White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said Trump wanted to tie federal funds directly to students, not their school district if it closed.

Although the highly contagious and potentially fatal disease appears to be less harmful to most young people, its total impact on young people or their ability to transmit it remains unclear.

School administrators weigh a variety of measures, including adjusting the school calendar and using online courses, to help keep the virus in check.

But DeVos has argued that schools can safely reopen now, which some Trump Republicans have repeated in Congress.

“If we can work to reopen bars, restaurants and casinos, we can work together to responsibly open our schools and daycares,” said Republican Party leader Kevin McCarthy.

But health experts have said that the revival of this economic activity has led to a spate of new cases, particularly in Texas, Florida and Arizona.

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Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, Republican and head of the National Governors Association, said the threat of Trump’s funding was “unfortunate” but that he did not expect schools to lose money.

His condition, he told MSNBC, would base his decision on the contributions of scientists, teachers and parents. “We are not going to be intimidated or threatened by the president.”

Source: Reuters

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