White House economic adviser says going back to school is ‘not that hard’

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow on Friday dismissed the difficulties surrounding getting students back into classrooms this fall as coronavirus cases continue to rise in many states and the school year nears.

“Just go back to school, we can do that,” Kudlow told reporters on Friday. “And you know, you can social distance, you can get your temperature taken, you can be tested, you can have distancing — come on, it’s not that hard.”

Kudlow’s comments seemed to run counter to President Donald Trump’s dissatisfaction with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on reopening schools, which the President slammed on Wednesday as “very tough and expensive.” Trump also threatened to cut off federal funding for schools if they don’t open in the fall, the latest stress for schools already reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.

While the CDC has released guidance to schools on how to safely bring children back into the classroom, the administration has said most of the decision making will be left up to local districts — suggesting there will be a piecemeal approach to how children across the nation will be educated in the fall. Congress has so far passed about $30 billion in aid for schools to deal with coronavirus — about $13 billion of which went to K-12 institutions. But educators say billions more will be needed to pay for things like masks, cleaning supplies, handwashing stations and possibly more staff to conduct temperature checks, and Congress is still trillions of dollars apart on another stimulus package to respond to the pandemic.

Adding to the concern over funding is Trump’s threat to limit federal support for schools that don’t reopen over Covid-19 fears.

While the President can’t unilaterally cut current federal support of schools, he could try to restrict some recent pandemic relief funding or refuse to sign future education grants and bailouts.

Any reductions in federal funding would hit schools hard, and re-opening in the fall while taking precautions to limit the spread of the virus could come with a steep price tag. The average district may have to spend an additional $1.8 million to institute and adhere to health and safety protocols, according to a joint estimate by the School Superintendents Association (AASA) and the Association of School Business Officials International.

Those complications were apparently lost on Kudlow on Friday as he simply suggested schools “put the guys in classrooms and let them learn.”

“The President has been very vocal about going back to school. And I would add to that, as I said all these fancy colleges and universities, of which I went to one,” Kudlow continued. “They should get with the drill, you know? Put the guys in classrooms and let them learn. Or, God knows what they’re teaching, but whatever. I’ll put it in good faith.”

Kudlow isn’t the first administration official to echo Trump’s calls to reopen schools without addressing concerns over how to do so safely.

Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said Thursday that schools were an “essential service” and cited factories as a model — a notable choice given that many factories have contended with their own coronavirus outbreaks in recent months.

“To me, schools are an essential service. We’ve had our factories in this country open throughout the pandemic. We’ve had our grocery stores open,” Scalia said at a news conference in Florida with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose administration this week mandated that schools open in August despite a major coronavirus surge in the state. “We even have tattoo parlors open and hair salons,” Scalia said.

The President had to issue an executive order in late April mandating that meat processing plants remain open. Some of the country’s largest plants had to close temporarily after thousands of employees tested positive for the virus.