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Rubio, Colleagues Introduce Bill to Get Students Back in School

Feb 3, 2021 | Press Releases

Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Rick Scott (R-FL), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Bill Hagerty (R-TN), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Steve Daines (R-MT), and Thom Tillis (R-NC) introduced the Put Students First Act of 2021, legislation which would prohibit federal funding to schools that do not provide an in-person learning option by April 30, 2021. Rubio previewed the legislation in an op-ed, writing that if “a school continues to cave to the unions at the expense of their students, they should not receive funding” and “that funding should be rescinded and directed to school choice and the reopening plans of schools that are prioritizing their students’ needs.”
 
In January, leading health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that America’s schools should reopen as soon as possible if precautions are taken – namely mask-wearing and social distancing – and that new scientific research provides “a path forward to maintain or return primarily or fully to in-person instructional delivery.” Additionally, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky reiterated in a press conference today that “vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools” and that is clear “that there is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen.”
 
A one-pager of the legislation is available here and the text is available here.
 
“For nearly a year, students across the country have faced immense challenges while they were forced to learn virtually, and the damage to our children has been catastrophic,” Rubio said. “But now that leading health experts at the CDC are recommending that America’s schools be reopened as soon as possible if precautions are taken, teachers unions are fighting to stay out of the classroom. Instead, they want to hold our students hostage for more federal funding despite Congress already having provided tens of billions of dollars for public K-12 schools. There is no substitute for in-person learning, and now the science is confirming that it can be done safely. It is time for every elected official to take a stand — to side with science and the future of our children’s education — and that is exactly what the Put Students First Act of 2021 would do.”
 
“Health experts, students and parents agree: schools need to reopen and our kids need to get back to school,” Scott said. “The only people who don’t want to open schools are Senate Democrats and the teachers unions that fund their campaigns. That’s wrong. Schools can openly safely and every student should have the option of in-person learning.”
 
“President Biden’s own CDC director agrees that we can safely open our schools—and we should,” Ernst said. “This is a matter of emotional and academic development and the mental health of our kiddos, as well as the well-being of our working families. I’m proud to join this effort that will ensure schools that put our children first receive additional federal support during COVID-19.”
 
“Schools have no reason to not be letting our kids get back into the classroom,” Cramer said. “There is no substitute for in-person learning, and the consequences for our country of not properly educating the next generation could be severe. Our legislation prevents schools from receiving federal funds if they are not following the science and prioritizing our children’s education.”
 
“We need to get kids back to school as quickly and safely as possible,” Daines said. 
 
“During this unprecedented pandemic, our students and families in North Carolina and across the country have experienced great disruptions to their academic development and well-being, and there is no question that these disruptions will have long-lasting consequences,” Tillis said. “The science is clear: our students, especially those who have special needs or live in underserved communities, will continue to face substantial learning loss and will not be able to receive crucial supportive services. I will continue to follow the guidance from our health experts and it is my highest priority to continue to fight for students and work to reopen our schools and resume in-person learning as soon as possible.”
 
Background:
 
President Biden has committed to reopen schools within his first 100 days as president. Despite this commitment, the Biden Administration claims that an extravagant infusion of $130 billion is necessary for schools to reopen safely, despite reports demonstrating that K-12 schools are not significant drivers of COVID-19 transmission when reasonable measures such as masking and social distancing are practiced.
 
Despite strong evidence indicating that schools can and should reopen safely, a number of teachers’ unions are pushing back with unreasonable timeline requests. Notably, certain unions are demanding conditions be met that would not allow schools to be reopened until 2022, if ever. Experts agree that school closures are incredibly detrimental to students’ wellbeing. A growing body of scientific research is clear: the best thing we can do for students is get them back into the classroom.
 
The Put Students First Act of 2021:

  • Prohibition of federal education funds for K-12 schools that do not reopen: This bill mandates that the Secretary of Education cannot provide any federal education dollars to schools that do not provide an in-person learning option by April 30, 2021.
    • Schools that do not reopen, and have already received FY21 and/or COVID-19 relief dollars, they would be required to return these funds. This provision would apply to any future infusions of COVID-19 relief dollars being currently debated by Congress.
  • Use of forfeited and returned funds: Following the return or forfeiture of funds, states in which schools closed for in-person learning would have fifteen days to submit a plan to the Department of Education for how to use those funds to support school choice options for students impacted by school closures.
  • Grants to states with the highest percentage of schools offering in-person instruction: If a state with shuttered schools chooses not to offer school choice options to their students, those funds would then be granted to states with the highest percentage of local education agencies in the state serving schools that offer in-person instruction.
  • Child Nutrition: Nothing in this Act would alter or preclude any eligibility, funding, or requirements related to the National School Lunch Program.