Expanded testing part of Biden administration school plans

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Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Wednesday, March 17, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON – Pushing forward with its plan to reopen schools this spring, the Biden administration is expanding coronavirus testing for teachers, staff and students and convening a summit for educators to share “best practices” for returning kids to the classroom.

“The time is now, and schools must act immediately to get students safely back into school buildings,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said Wednesday.

President Joe Biden, who was inaugurated on Jan. 20, has pledged to have most elementary and middle schools open to instruction by the end of his first 100 days in office. The administration has been promoting the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill recently passed by Congress as a way to accomplish that. As part of that effort, first lady Jill Biden visited a school in New Hampshire on Wednesday.

The states will share $122 billion for K-12 schools, with allocations ranging from $285 million for Vermont schools to $15 billion for California, according to the Education Department.

The money can be used to reduce class sizes and modify classrooms to enhance social distancing, install ventilation systems and purchase personal protective equipment. It also can pay for more nurses, counselors and janitors, and summer school.

Also Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Services announced $10 billion for states to support school COVID-19 testing programs.

Most public schools haven't been able to afford the robust testing seen as critical to reopening safely, said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

“With this investment, help truly is on the way to aid school systems in implementing a testing system that will help keep students, educators and staff safe inside school buildings,” she said in a statement.