Congress's next fight: Reopening schools

The terms for expansive funding for education will now likely to be a central component of the next trillion dollar-plus package, along with soon-to-expire jobless benefits and additional stimulus checks. While the federal government can’t set procedures for local school districts, Republicans and Democrats are eager to use the package to help shape how the nation reopens schools for millions of students.

“Everyone wants to see schools open,” said Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, whose own proposal would provide federal grant money to assist schools in their reopening. “The unfortunate thing is that the president doesn’t use the word ‘safely’ in front of ‘opening.’ And I think that that’s the key.”

Trump’s closest allies, meanwhile, are downplaying the dangers of the virus for school-aged children, with Freedom Caucus member Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) declaring Thursday that “the risk is extremely low that anything will happen to them” if they don’t have underlying conditions. He said the risk would also be low for school staff under the age of 60.

As Congress begins to assemble its next package, Senate Republicans are considering incentives for schools to fully reopen safely, according to a GOP aide. Republicans in both chambers are also demanding liability protections for schools that reopen fulltime and have begun to float a special school voucher that would give parents “flexibility” with their federal education dollars — an idea that’s likely to be a nonstarter for Democrats.

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