When President-elect Joe Biden assumes the Oval Office on Wednesday, Congress will undoubtedly begin work at the U.S. Capitol on an ambitious plan to reopen most schools closed by COVID-19.
Biden announced his two-pronged “American Rescue Plan” on Thursday evening, with one focus being on providing $160 billion to accelerate the rollout of vaccines nationwide and granting public school districts with $170 billion—more than twice the amount provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act combined.
The majority of those education funds, $130 billion would be aimed at opening most K-8 schools nationwide within the first 100 days of a law being signed.
Biden previously said he wanted all students back in physical classes, but the emphasis is now on elementary and junior high schools.
To do so, the plan calls for the increased transportation capacity of school buses “to facilitate social distancing.” It was not immediately known what that phrase means. But school districts could also use the funds to improve ventilation, which the U.S. Department of Education previously confirmed includes onboard school buses. Personal protective equipment is also included along with modifying classrooms to increase social distancing, hiring more janitorial staff for cleaning and COVID-19 mitigation, providing every school with access to a nurse, and accessing the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund, among other student supports.
State governors would also have access to $5 billion to support educational programs in K-12, early childhood education, and colleges and universities that have been hit the hardest by COVID-19.
The other element of the plan, which Education Week reported could encounter the most opposition in Congress, includes $1,400 in direct payments to each adult. That relief would also increase the federal minimum wage to $15, which could affect the introductory pay scales for school bus drivers in some districts. A survey conducted by School Transportation News of over 400 readers in November 2019 indicated an average starting driver wage of $17 an hour but as low as $10.
The family relief would also extend unemployment insurance to $400 per week, increase the individual child tax credit to $3,000, provide direct housing and nutrition assistance, and expand access to safe and reliable childcare as well as affordable healthcare
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