Feb 23, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Exclusive: White House defends budget for reopening schools

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a news briefing at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House February 22, 2021 in Washington, DC.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a news briefing at the White House on Monday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The White House is defending against criticism of its proposed budget to reopen schools found in its larger $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill, stressing the need for “aggressive action” in points shared exclusively with Axios.

Why it matters: Republicans have been hammering the White House for insisting the proposed funding is necessary to reopen schools, arguing much of the money from the original CARES Act has yet to be spent.

  • "They're doing devastating, long-term damage to these kids by not reopening. And it's a national disgrace," Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) said during an interview on Fox News last Thursday.

The White House is arguing this budget proposal takes into account funds that schools received from the first stimulus package and the December bill that they will continue to spend over the next two school years.

  • It also points to the fact the majority of education costs are personnel or "otherwise built into spending plans."
  • During a briefing Monday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said schools need to "obligate funds according to spending plans, rather than exhausting all balances as soon as they're received."

By the numbers: Nearly $130 billion of the broader stimulus package is for K-12 public schools.

  • The Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan institution, says states have only spent $3 billion out of the $13 billion appropriated by the CARES Act.
  • It estimates that $6 billion of the new proposed budget of $130 billion would make its way to schools this year.

But, but, but: The White House argues the data has a 30-90 day lag, so it's possible the number already spent from the CARES Act is higher — and potentially half of $13 billion.

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