CAMERON, Mo. — Congressional Republicans want to deliver more COVID-19 aid to schools, the U.S. House delegate for northern Missouri said on Monday, but only if pandemic liability for those same schools is curtailed.
Rep. Sam Graves, R-Missouri, spoke to a few dozen regional superintendents in an auditorium at the offices of Cameron R-I school district to provide an overall update on education and legislative affairs in Washington and answer a number of questions. Graves, first elected to the House in 2000, acknowledged that at this time a serious impasse exists between Republicans and Democrats over how to implement further federal COVID-19 aid.
“For a school to be able to have in-person schooling — which I think is vitally important — or, you know, a hospital seeing patients or whatever the case may be, the bottom line is: They ought to be protected,” Graves said.
The GOP demands include a liability shield that will prohibit lawsuits against school districts, businesses and other entities that re-open during the pandemic and become clusters of COVID-19 infection by some means other than “gross negligence.”
Congress previously passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act in March, which at $2.2 trillion is the largest form of national stimulus ever enacted. Billions of that funding went to local government entities like the Buchanan County Commission for relay to public service agencies within their jurisdiction. As an example, it designated more than $2.3 million to cover COVID-19 losses suffered by the St. Joseph School District. Dr. Doug Van Zyl, superintendent of schools, was present at the Graves presentation.
Graves said it remains a matter of debate as to how much more aid to provide, but most everyone agrees billions more will be needed for schools. He heard input from superintendents to suggest that Congress needs to directly pay aid money to education budgets, rather than route it through the county level. Overall, Graves heard an apparent consensus among education leaders that the federal government should prioritize public education funding and leave public education leaders, under the supervision of locally elected school boards, with the choice of deciding how to spend the money.
Graves said that although Congress must overcome the divide on liability protections, among other matters, he is confident it will arrive at a compromise in the weeks to come.
“It’s not unusual for bills to stall out and kind of reset,” he said. “When we come back in, in person, in September ... I think we’ll see a lot of progress.”