Clyburn Calls on DeVos to Rescind Illegal Threat to Defund Schools During Pandemic

Jul 17, 2020
Press Release

Washington, D.C. (July 17, 2020) -- Today, Rep. James E. Clyburn, Chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, sent a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, demanding documents on the Trump Administration’s threat to defund schools that do not immediately reopen for full-time, in-person education during the coronavirus pandemic. 


Getting our kids back to school is vitally important, but disregarding local, state, and federal public health guidance could put children, teachers, and families at risk of infection and death from the coronavirus,” the Chairman wrote.  “I am particularly concerned that, contrary to the laws passed by Congress, you have threatened to cut off federal funds from schools that do not accede to your potentially dangerous demands.  I urge you to rescind this illegal threat and allow schools to make reopening decisions based on the best available science.”


The CARES Act includes the $13.2 billion Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief (ESSER) Fund to help make schooling during the pandemic safe and effective, consistent with public health guidelines. 


On July 8, 2020, President Trump wrote that he “[m]ay cut off funding” if schools are not “open before the November Election.”  Secretary DeVos affirmed that threat, stating:  “If schools aren’t going to reopen and not fulfill that promise, they shouldn’t get the funds.”


The Chairman condemned those threats, writing:


“Neither the President nor the Secretary of Education has the legal authority to cut off funds to schools on this basis.  . . .  Moreover, it would be highly inappropriate for the federal government to demand that students and teachers return to school based on an election schedule, rather than the best available science.”


The Administration’s attempts to pressure schools to fully reopen are contrary to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, which identifies “[f]ull sized, in-person classes” as the “Highest Risk” for transmitting the coronavirus.  


The White House has demanded that schools ignore this guidance, with the White House Press Secretary saying “the science should not stand in the way” of re-opening schools.    


At a Subcommittee hearing earlier today, the Chairman stated:  This is about educating our children in a safe, healthy environment.  And we need to go with the experts when it comes to that.”


Today’s letter requested a staff briefing by July 24 and documents by July 31. 


Click here to read today’s letter.



116th Congress