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Sen Warner Calls For More School Funding, Hits Back At Trump

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Virginia Senator Warner told school administrators Wednesday in a virtual meeting that he’s proposing $175 billion go directly to primary and secondary schools. This is higher than the current proposal being floated by Senator Mitch McConnell. (Archive Photo: Craig Carper/VPM News)

If the Senate Republicans emergency coronavirus relief bill were a pie, a big slice--namely $70 billion dollars--would go directly to K-12 public and private schools, regardless if they open virtually or physically, according to Education Week.  

Virginia Senator Mark Warner doesn’t think that’s enough. He is calling for more funding for K-12 schools than the current GOP plan allocates.

“That sounds like a lot of money. But when we think about dividing it amongst all the schools across the country, I frankly don’t think it’s enough,” Warner said. 

Instead, Warner told school administrators Wednesday in a virtual meeting that he’s proposing $175 billion dollars go directly to primary and secondary schools.

He said that between the Republican’s proposal and his, the real dollar amount will be somewhere in between. Warner said if all goes well, schools should see funds no later than Labor Day. 

In response to the Trump administration's calls to halt funding for schools who don’t reopen, Warner said those are just scare tactics. 

“Mr. Trump and [Secretary of Education] Betsy DeVos using these threats of saying they will not send federal education money that has been appropriated by the Congress down to your school division if you don’t open based upon their political plans, they want all students in school, full time by mid August or Labor Day at the latest. That is a phony, I believe a phony threat,” Warner said. 

He said that he has put in legislation not to punish schools for their pandemic response. 

In the second half of the conference, Warner spoke about the need to fund broadband internet access during the health crisis. 

Warner, who co-founded the cell phone company that became Nextel, said the coronavirus relief bills haven’t done enough to bring broadband internet to areas that need it, especially for virtual school classes. 

He says there are a number of emergency measures that could be implemented cheaply.

“We can put temporary antennas on your school buildings or other buildings that may be wider than your city and county and provide emergency broadband service,” Warner said. 

Another idea Warner had was to help expand the use of companies known as WISPs, wireless internet service providers, to help fill the gaps in rural areas. But Warner says companies like Verizon and Comcast have fought both ideas. 

Warner said he’s working on two different pieces of legislation to help with the issue, including a bipartisan bill with Sen. Lindsay Graham for $5 billion in emergency grants and a $100 billion package to get broadband to every home in America.  

Back in May, he co-sponsored a bill with fellow Virginia Senator Tim Kaine and introduced a bill to ensure K-12 students have adequate home internet connectivity and devices so that they may participate in online learning during this health crisis. But that bill only sought $4 million in funding.