Biden Administration to Give Schools Money to Reopen
The administration of President Joe Biden is moving forward with its plans to help schools reopen this spring.
The administration is making money available to expand coronavirus testing for teachers, students and other school workers. It is also planning an event for educators to share "best practices," or good methods, for returning students to the classroom.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said Wednesday: "The time is now, and schools must act immediately to get students safely back into school buildings."
Biden promised to have most elementary and middle schools open by the end of his first 100 days in office. The administration has been pointing to legislation passed by Congress that provides $1.9 trillion for COVID-19 assistance as a way to reach that goal.
The Education Department said American states will share $122 billion for K-12 schools to reopen. The money can be used to reduce the number of students in each class, change classrooms to improve social distancing, put in air cleaning systems and buy personal protective equipment. The money also can be used to pay for more health workers, counselors and cleaners, as well as for summer school.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) also recently announced $10 billion for states to support school COVID-19 testing programs.
Randi Weingarten is president of the American Federation of Teachers. She said most public schools in the country have not been able to pay for a lot of testing. Some experts consider testing an important step toward reopening.
Speaking of the $10 billion, Weingarten said in a statement: "With this investment, help truly is on the way to aid school systems in implementing a testing system that will help keep students, educators and staff safe inside school buildings."
Cardona said a meeting planned for later this week will give education leaders, teachers and students a chance to share their experiences related to reopening schools. The Education Department said first lady Jill Biden will give opening comments at the event. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also will speak.
Cardona told reporters that he expects schools will fully open in the autumn if vaccinations continue and health officials provide guidance.
School leaders say the flow of money will be a big step toward the goal of reopening public schools and keeping them open. The Education Department is expected to begin making the money available this month.
Schools need money to pay for unexpected costs that include computers and internet services for distance-learning students.
Money also is needed to help students learn what they missed while away from classrooms. That could mean paying teachers or other workers to keep school open through the summer or continuing distance learning in addition to learning at school.
Cardona recently told reporters that the education department would receive reports from states on how they are using the money.
"It's critically important that we use the funds to support our students," he said, "especially those students who have had gaps exacerbated as a result of this pandemic."
I'm Ashley Thompson.