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GOP Still Conditions School Aid on Reopening Buildings in New Draft Aid Bill

By Andrew Ujifusa — August 18, 2020 2 min read
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Senate Republicans aren’t budging from their proposal that schools must have some sort of plan to hold in-person classes in order to tap the majority of new federal coronavirus relief for K-12.

The so-called “skinny” coronavirus relief bill from the GOP has not been formally introduced, but as written, the legislation does not change the key elements of the July bill that Democrats rejected immediately. Since Republicans introduced that July bill, negotiations between White House officials and Democrats have failed to produce a compromise deal.

And the time when a new aid package might have influenced many districts’ reopening decisions has long passed. Many schools have already started the 2020-21 year, and some have resumed in-person classes only to shut them down again, amid outbreaks of the coronavirus and ongoing concerns about the impact of holding in-person classes on community spread of the disease.

As with the July bill, the scaled-back, 169-page draft proposal says one-third of $70 billion included in the bill for K-12 would be available to schools regardless of whether they plan to offer a full slate of regular classes, only remote learning, or some hybrid. But the remaining two-thirds would not be available to schools offering remote-only learning.

Schools that have a plan to have at least 50 percent of their students on campus at least 50 percent of the time would automatically qualify for two-thirds of the $70 billion. And schools offering face-to-faces classes for fewer than half their students would qualify for a pro-rated amount of the money. Governors would have to sign off on these plans, which would have to include timelines and other information.

Click here for more background on common elements of both the July bill and the revised draft pitch from Republicans, including the direct aid for private schools.

The focus of the new “skinny” proposal is on providing additional funding for the U.S. Postal Service and stimulus funding to shore up the economy amid the virus crisis. The Trump administration has made tying K-12 virus aid to schools physically reopening one of their key demands. But congressional Democrats have said repeatedly that the idea is a nonstarter with them.

It remains to be seen how any final deal on Capitol Hill handles school relief—assuming there is one—and whether most or virtually all schools will have started the school year by the time such a deal is reached.