Opening Schools in the Fall Is a Political Hot Potato

This blog post is written by AACTE consultant Jane West and is intended to provide updated information. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE.

U.S. Capital Rotunda

It’s been a busy — if not dizzying — week in DC – from movement on funding bills in the House to Trump Administration threats to withhold education funding and withdraw non-profit tax status from schools that do not fully open in the fall.  The rest of July will likewise be action packed and fraught as Congress sprints to the August recess. 

House Appropriations Subcommittee Adopts Education Funding Bill for FY 2021
On Tuesday, the House Subcommittee on Labor/HHS/Education Appropriations, chaired by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), adopted a spending bill for FY 2021, which begins October 1. 

Because the bill was required to stay within previously agreed upon budget caps, there were only modest increases for education. Overall, education spending was increased by 1.7%, or $1.2 billion, bringing federal education spending to a total of $73.5 billion.

Below are a few programs and the new proposed funding levels in the Subcommittee bill.

Program      Current level  House Subcom. Bill  Percent change
Title I ESSA

$16.3 B

$16.564 B



$2.132 B

$2.155 B


Charter Schools

$440 M

$ 400 M

– 9.1%


$12.76 B

$12.958 B


IDEA Personnel Prep

$90 M

$90 M

Transition ID Programs

$12 M

$ 12 M

TQP – Higher Ed Act

$50 M

$52 M



$623 M

$630 M


The bill will likely be passed by the full committee next week and then head to the House floor for a full vote the week of July 20.  Chair Lowey has indicated that she would like to have all 12 funding bills passed by the House before the August recess. The Senate has no plan to begin consideration of the funding bills for FY 2021. Thus, the likelihood of a continuing resolution or simple extension of current funding levels, becomes greater as we move toward the November election.

Trump and DeVos Put the Squeeze on K-12 and Higher Education to open up or else: Impact on Next COVID Relief Package
In a remarkable one-two punch this week, the Trump Administration has thrown down the gauntlet regarding opening up schools in the fall in the midst of the pandemic. Every day the challenge continues to morph, expand, and cause chaos in the education community. On Monday, the Administration announced that international students who attend colleges on visas in the United States will be prohibited from remaining in the country if their school’s classes are entirely online. Failure to comply with in-person learning requirements could result in removal from the country.

The tactic chosen for K-12 education was more of a frontal assault: open up schools in person or risk loosing federal funds. President Trump began the blast by tweeting “SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL.”

Sec. DeVos indicated that she might withhold funding from schools that do not offer fully in-person classes. While she would not legally be able to do that with existing funding, she could insist that any future education funds in another COVID relief bill make such requirements. Of course, Congress would have to agree to that.

On Thursday on Fox News, Sec. DeVos offered the following revision to her position: “We are not suggesting pulling funding from education, but instead allowing families, take that money and figure out where their kids can get educated if their schools refuse to open. Schools can reopen safely and they must reopen.”

Perturbed with the aggressive push back from the education community, President Trump upped the ante on Friday challenging the tax-exempt status of universities and school systems. He tweeted:

“Too many Universities and School Systems are about Radical Left Indoctrination, not Education. Therefore, I am telling the Treasury Department to re-examine their Tax-Exempt Status….and or Funding, which will be taken away if this Propaganda or Act Against Public Policy continues. Our children must be Educated, not Indoctrinated.”

With the next COVID relief funding bill on the docket for July, the debate about re-opening will likely take center stage. In addition to leveraging in-person school openings with funds, Sec. DeVos will likely insist on funding for her signature voucher program, “Education Freedom Scholarships.” The House has passed its next COVID Relief bill, the HEROES Act. It includes an additional $100 billion for education. Sen. Murray introduced the Senate Democrat’s proposal, the Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act, which calls for an additional $430 billion for education.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said that getting kids back to school will be a theme of the next COVID relief bill. He has noted some willingness to provide additional funding for schools and also drawn a red line insisting that both K-12 schools and higher education have liability protections in the bill. 

Read the full Washington Update on my website for more information. See you on twitter @janewestdc!

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Jane E. West

AACTE Education Policy Consultant