WASHINGTON, DC (NEXSTAR) — President Joe Biden wants students to return to the classroom but said the logistics of going back to school safely will rely heavily on Congress.
President Biden has called on lawmakers to approve at least $130 billion in additional funding for schools, but that money has become a sticking point for Republicans.
“The Senate will soon begin the process of considering legislation,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, said on the floor Wednesday.
Schumer made it clear Democrats are ready to move on the president’s coronavirus relief package, but Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-LA, who is part of the bipartisan group negotiating with the White House, said Republicans are still waiting on the administration to justify the price tags on some of its priorities.
“I’m hoping there’s better things than what we’ve seen this first week of the administration,” Cassidy said.
On additional school funding, Cassidy argues the federal government spends about $60 billion every year on K through 12 public schools. He said Congress already doubled that amount during the pandemic, and now President Biden is asking lawmakers to approve $130 billion more for schools to return to the classroom full-time.
“What? Where is this coming from?,” Cassidy asked.
“You want to give them three times that,” he continued. “And yet teachers’ unions won’t open even though science says it’s safe to do so.”
The Biden administration would use the funds for new ventilation systems, updated safety guidelines, and widespread testing and tracing efforts.
“We should be able to open up every school, Kindergarten through 8th grade, if in fact we administer these tests,” Biden said.
If Congress can’t reach a bipartisan agreement, the now Democrat-controlled Senate may move forward without Republicans.
“It’s not our preference, but dealing with this crisis in a bold and sufficient way is a necessity,” Schumer said.
Schumer is considering the budget reconciliation process that allows major legislation to pass on a simple majority vote, but Cassidy hopes Democrats don’t go there.
“If President Biden meant it when he said he wants to work on a bipartisan basis… we’ll see if he means it,” Cassidy said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report Tuesday that states schools can open safely if they implement precautions like mask requirements and smaller class sizes.