Trump threatens to cut off funds to US schools that do not reopen

Business groups are advocating for schools to reopen safely to get parents back to work and revive the US economy.

Trump school funding
Trump also took aim at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday, describing the CDC's guidelines for school reopenings as 'very tough and expensive' [File: Tom Brenner/Reuters]

United States President Donald Trump has threatened to cut off funding to schools that do not open in the fall and criticised a federal health agency’s guidelines for reopening schools as “very tough and expensive”.

The Republican president who is seeking re-election in November accused Democrats of wanting to keep schools shut for political reasons, despite a surge in coronavirus cases across the country.

“The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if US schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!” Trump said on Twitter, pointing to schools reopening in some European countries with no problems.

It was not clear what specific federal aid the president had in mind. States are responsible for primary and secondary education under the US Constitution, but the federal government provides some supplementary funding.

Trump also took aim at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the nation’s health protection agency whose director sits on the White House coronavirus task force.

“I disagree with @CDCgov on their very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools. While they want them open, they are asking schools to do very impractical things. I will be meeting with them!!!” Trump said in a separate Twitter post.

The White House did not elaborate on which CDC guidelines Trump takes issue with.

The CDC is recommending a number of considerations for schools, including testing, dividing students into small groups, serving packaged lunches in classrooms instead of cafeterias, and minimising sharing of school supplies. It advises sneeze guards and partitions be put in place when social distancing is not possible, and that seats be spaced at least six feet apart.

“It’s time for us to get our kids back to school,” Vice President Mike Pence said after a White House coronavirus task force meeting at the Department of Education on Wednesday.

Pence said the CDC plans to issue new guidelines to schools and stressed the agency’s guidelines were not meant to replace local school considerations and decision-making.

On Tuesday, Trump held meetings about school reopenings at the White House and said he would pressure state governors to open schools in the coming months.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo retorted on Wednesday that the federal government has no authority on schools and his state will announce reopening plans in the first week of August.

Business and conservative groups have urged the reopening schools safely as an important step towards getting parents back to work and reviving the US economy.

Educators say socialisation and other benefits such as school food programmes are critically important. Experts have also shown online learning exacerbates the divide between children from poorer households versus wealthier ones that have greater access to technology.

But the alarming surge in cases in parts of the US is raising concerns about the increased risk for children to spread the virus to vulnerable adults at home as well as to older teachers and school staff.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said on Wednesday he planned to reopen state schools soon, but reserved the right to “tweak that if it means saving lives”.

In Los Angeles, the top public health official said the planned reopening of primary and secondary schools for the first semester is at risk. “Every single school district at this point needs to have plans in place to continue distance learning for 100 percent of the time,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told officials in a private conference call reported by the Los Angeles Times. 

Source: Reuters

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