DeVos does damage control after Trump threatens to defund schools


Earlier in the week, Trump told schools to open amid a surge in coronavirus cases or face a loss of federal funding.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos appeared to partially walk back Donald Trump's threat to pull federal funding to schools that do not open this fall due to the coronavirus, suggesting instead that the administration may send the funding directly to parents.

"American investment in education is a promise to our students and families. And if schools aren't going to reopen, we're not suggesting pulling funding from education, but instead allowing families, let the families take that money and figure out where their kids can get educated if their schools are going to refuse to open," DeVos said Thursday morning in an interview on Fox News.

Education Department officials did not immediately return a request for clarity regarding DeVos' comments.

At the very least, DeVos seemed to be suggesting Thursday that she wanted to take federal funding from closed public schools and give it to parents to use at other educational institutions that are open, such as private schools.

Of course, federal funding makes up only a fraction of school budgets — and those funds wouldn't be nearly enough to provide for full private school tuition for every student in the United States.

DeVos has long pushed for education funding to be diverted from public schools and given to parents to use to send their children to private and religious schools.

And she has continued that push during the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced school closures across the country.

Four states are currently suing DeVos, saying she directed states to give federal coronavirus relief funds Congress appropriated for public schools to private institutions.

Ultimately, schools across the country are struggling with how to reopen in the fall, as coronavirus cases surge.

Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of Trump's coronavirus task force, said Wednesday that in virus "red zones," all indoor gatherings should be canceled. Schools would seemingly fall in that category, as students are taught indoors.

Additionally, the measures public health experts suggest to slow the spread of the virus in indoor areas like schools — such as cutting classroom capacity, utilizing testing, and doing extra deep cleaning — are all very expensive. Cutting classroom sizes would require more teachers, at a time when school districts are already struggling with paying their staff.

Trump alluded to this on Wednesday, saying the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's school safety regulations were too expensive and would be tinkered with to make it easier for schools to comply with.

The CDC said Thursday, however, that it wouldn't be changing its guidance.

Nevertheless, Trump and DeVos are demanding schools open at full capacity at all costs — even as experts warn that doing so could put students and staff in danger.

"Schools can reopen safely, and they must reopen," DeVos said Thursday. "Kids need to be in the classroom, they need to be with their peers, they need to be with their teachers, and they need to continue learning."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.