White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki hosted newly minted Education Secretary Miguel Cardona at the press briefing on Wednesday where the two took questions about the reopening of schools.
After much back and forth about whether schools would reopen, the consensus from the Biden administration now is that they are working on it. Cardona provided no new information and did not engage in a timeline as to when schools would be open.
Cardona said that "We're at a critically important time in our nation's history in education," and that his "goal is to safely reopen as many schools as possible as quickly as possible."
Cardona said that he has "notified all the states as to how much money they would receive," and that the total amount available in the American Rescue Plan for schools is $122 billion.
HHS is allocating an additional $10 billion to do screening and surveillance testing for COVID testing to open schools and to keep schools open. His remarks on Wednesday were in advance of the a "national reopening summit" as to how to reopen "safely" and "quickly.
Cardona noted that he is excited that Dr. Jill Biden, a teacher, will be offering opening remarks, and that CDC Director Rochelle Walensky will be there too.
He went on to tout the importance of in person learning, and to get to work to get schools open. He was asked questions as to how he can ensure that states will use the funds appropriately, and he said that it's critically important that the funds are used to get those who were left behind and most impacted the help they need.
As to vaccinations, Cardona said that it is "critically important to vaccinate as many people as possible," and encouraged teachers to get the shot. He did not say that there would be a mandate for teachers to get vaccinated. He said that at the state level, many states realize how important it is to get teachers and education staff vaccinated, but that it's just one of the strategies to get people back in school.
Cardona took a question about why the bulk of the $122 billion for schools reopening will not be spent or distributed until after 2021, and why the past allocations of funds haven't yet been spent.
He said that this is because the money is used for human resources, and "services are paid when they are given." HHS is looking to release funds this month for reopening now and to plan ahead, "to meet the needs of the students after they return from the pandemic."
Additionally, he said they were going to ramp up testing. "We're looking to get that soon, we know that's a tool" to get schools open and to keep them open.
Cardona was asked about social distancing as per the CDC guidance, and that the distance may be reduced from six feet to three feet. He said that a reduction to three feet would make it easier for schools to reopen.
He was also asked about murders that happened on Tuesday at Atlanta spas, which some have said was racially motivated, although the officers investigating that case said that the suspect said it was not race that inspired him to kill, but the temptation of his sex addiction.
"In education we have alot of work to do, we have to reopen our schools and prepare our students for a tomorrow that we want for our students," Cardona said.
In the second half of the press conference, Psaki was asked "Are you pushing for full school days five day a week?"
"Yup," Psaki said briefly. She did not elaborate.
Cardona has been the man tasked with getting schools open. The much anticipated American Rescue Plan has been passed, to the exorbitant tune of $1.9 trillion, with well over $100 billion earmarked for schools. However, schools are still not open or only marginally open in America's largest school districts.
Bide had promised that schools would be fully open for in-person learning five days per week by the end of his first 100 days is office, which is rapidly approaching. Those 100 days will be up on April 23.
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