MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Gov. Tim Walz will announce tomorrow if Minnesota schools can safely reopen in the fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision comes as the President is threatening to withhold classroom funding in schools that don’t reopen.

In Minnesota, that’s hundreds of millions of dollars. The state spends $13 billion a year on public schools; 95% of it comes from Minnesota taxpayers.

However, the federal government funds Minnesota school programs too. In 2019, it provided a total of $833 million.

President Trump, however, is threatening to withhold funding from schools that don’t reopen this fall. He’s made several tweets and public comments, like when he said on July 6 that “SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!”or on July 8 that he “may cut off funding if not open!” 

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos agrees. She told Fox News that “American investment in education is a promise to our families. If schools are not going to re-open and not fulfill that promise, they shouldn’t get the funds.”

Federal government funding helps pay for some of Minnesota’s most important programs for low-income and disadvantaged children, including students experiencing homelessness and special education learners. The programs also address racial disparities, school lunches, and Head Start.

Here’s a partial list of 2019 federal funding for Minnesota Schools:

  • U.S. Department of Education: $510 million
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture: $320 million for school nutrition programs
  • Institute of Museum & Library Service: $3.1 million.
  • Health and Human Services: $525,000, including Head Start.

It’s a serious threat to families who use the federal education programs. Yet despite the tough talk and the tweets and the headlines, Minnesota education officials say they haven’t heard anything official from anyone in Washington.

A Minnesota Department of Education spokesperson says the state has not received any direction ordering it to use one back-to-school model or another, or that whatever Minnesota decides will be tied to federal funding.

Here’s a statement from MDE:

We haven’t received any direction from the U.S. Department of Education ordering us to use one educational model or another. We also have not been told that our guidance to Minnesota schools about the 2020-21 school year will be tied to federal funding in any way.

The latest Republican coronavirus relief package in Congress appears to line up with the President’s wishes, earmarking much-needed future coronavirus safety funds only to schools re-opening with in-person learning.

But no, say legal experts: the President cannot legally withhold any federal funding already passed by Congress and signed into law.

The Minnesota Department of Education concurs:

Federal funds that Minnesota schools receive are allocated through federal legislation that has been passed through Congress. The executive branch cannot unilaterally change the terms of that legislation without some act of Congress, so we firmly believe the White House or the U.S. Department of Education cannot currently withhold any federal dollars that Minnesota schools receive.

That’s Reality Check.

Here are some of the sources we used for this week’s Reality Check:

Pat Kessler

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