BOSTON (CN) — Former Vice President Joe Biden on Friday announced a plan to reopen schools that involves comprehensive federal guidelines for when classes can resume, $92 billion in new federal spending and a focus on fixing systemic racial and socioeconomic inequalities in education.
“The challenge facing our schools is unprecedented. President Trump has made it much worse,” Biden said, adding, “Trump blew it.”
Biden jumped into the controversy created by President Donald Trump’s statements that schools should reopen as usual in September despite a recent surge in coronavirus cases. Some administration officials have suggested that online learning doesn’t offer the same benefits as physical classrooms.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were planning to provide additional school reopening guidelines this week, but those have been delayed until the end of the month. Trump denounced the CDC’s initial guidelines in a tweet as “very tough & expensive.”
Trump has threatened to hold back federal funds for schools that don’t reopen. According to Biden, the president “has threatened to force schools to reopen for in-person instruction without the basic resources they need to keep students, educators and communities safe.”
Biden said he would ask the CDC and other federal agencies to establish objective criteria for when a school can reopen, including the community Covid-19 infection rate, the maximum safe class size, and who should return to the classroom first if not everyone can be accommodated.
“The current lack of clarity is paralyzing for schools,” the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee said.
Under Biden’s plan, schools would be advised not to reopen unless they have sufficient emergency funding to reconfigure classrooms, improve ventilation, and offer masks and other personal protective equipment to every student and teacher every day. Biden said he would use the Defense Production Act to make sure schools have enough masks.
However, Biden also suggested that local officials should have the final say, and “schools in areas with high levels of Covid-19 … should not be compelled to reopen against the judgment of local experts” even if the federal criteria for reopening are met.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said at a news conference recently that “school reopenings are a state decision, period” and “it’s not up to the president.”
New York City recently announced plans to have students attend school two or three days a week to avoid crowding.
Biden called for massive new federal spending on schools, warning that many communities are facing budget shortfalls and even a 5% decrease in state education funding could result in layoffs of almost 28,000 teachers, counselors, social workers and school psychologists.
He proposed spending $58 billion to save jobs in local school districts as well as “a renewable fund for state, tribal, and local governments to help prevent budget shortfalls” in the future.
On top of this, Biden wants to spend an additional $34 billion for personal protective equipment; public health and sanitation products; custodial and health services; new technology and broadband; and alterations to ventilation systems, classrooms, schedules, class sizes and transportation.
He also wants the Department of Education to develop new tools for remote learning, with a special emphasis on disabled students and non-native speakers of English, as well as methods to help parents assist their children with learning remotely.
In addition, Biden said he wants to focus on “systemic racial and socioeconomic disparities in education that the pandemic has exacerbated,” including inviting experts to discuss possible solutions and offering grants to develop them.
The former vice president emphasized his plan would rely on scientific experts and not use education for “political brinksmanship.”
A recent Politico-Morning Consult poll found that Americans were inclined to delay school reopenings by 53% to 38%.