White House press secretary Jen Psaki admitted that most of the federal funds designated for schools and other educational institutions in the Biden administration’s COVID-19 bill will not be spent in 2021.
During a press briefing on Monday, one reporter pressed Psaki on how the money set aside for education in the “American Rescue Plan” would be used to help reopen schools.
“A CBO analysis suggested that only a small portion of the $130 billion for schools would actually be spent in the current fiscal year. What exactly is the White House doing to ensure that money would actually mean that schools could potentially open to March and April before the academic year ends?” the reporter asked.
Psaki, however, was unbothered with the fact that much of the money in the bill would be left unspent on a return to in-person learning. Instead, the press secretary argued that those funds would be better used to ensure that schools could pay teachers, reinforcing the Biden administration’s affection for prioritizing teachers and teachers unions over students’ learning interests.
“A big part of the challenge here for a number of schools is that they need, in order to operate responsibly and given the threat of budget cuts, they need to obligate funds according to spending plans, rather than exhausting all balances as soon as they’re received,” she explained. “So the challenge here is, how do they plan ahead? They can hire, if they need to hire additional teachers now for smaller class sizes or if they need to hire bus drivers or if they need to hire, they need to do improvements to their facilities, they want to be able to know, understandably, just like any business or company, that they will be able to employ teachers next year and the year ahead, so that’s why this funding is so essential is because they need to be able to plan ahead so that they can make the improvements now and do the hiring now.”
Psaki’s comments come after nearly $1 trillion of Congress’s previous coronavirus spending funds are still sitting unused. One $100 million authorization in the CARES Act, which granted federally funded schools resources “for cleaning and disinfecting” as well as “assistance in counseling and distance learning,” was also left untouched as schools around the United States kept their doors closed in exchange for virtual learning.