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Reopening schools safely is going to be expensive, but who is going to pay for it?

Educators estimate reopening schools this year will cost billions of dollars and believe lawmakers can help.

TAMPA, Fla. — Schools across Tampa Bay are pushing back their reopening dates for the year as they try and come up with plans to protect students and staff from the coronavirus.

What schools are learning is that it's going to cost a lot of money, millions of dollars more.

"Take buses for example. If we social distance on buses, that goes from two kids a seat to one kid a seat. That reduces the capacity 50 to 25 percent. So, you have three options. You're going to have to buy more buses, which costs money. You can add more bus routes or you can hire more bus drivers, either way, you're going to need more money," said Fedrick Ingram, president of the Florida Education Association.

10 Tampa Bay reached out to all local school districts in the area to ask how much more money the districts will need to comply with all safety guidelines put out by the CDC. Of the districts that responded to us, they said right now, they're not sure how much it's going to cost because they don't know how many students are coming back to campus.

Ingram estimates schools will need at least 20 percent more money than they currently have in order to maintain and hire more staff for cleaning and teaching, purchase personal protective equipment and support virtual learning technology. Some education groups, like the Council of Chief State School Offices, estimate nationwide schools will need anywhere between $158 to $244.6 billion to reopen safely.

The School Superintendent's Association put together one price estimate based on an average district of 3,600 students, 8 buildings, 183 classrooms, 329 staff members, and 40 school buses. For cleaning equipment, staff, masks and transportation it would cost just under $2 million.  

Where is this money going to come from? 

Ingram believes this money needs to come from the government at the federal and state levels. 

"Our governor needs to take the lead here and put pressure on our two senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, to pass the HEROES Act," said Ingram. He also said Governor Ron DeSantis should call a special session of the state legislature to discuss the budget and where money could be reallocated from to provide schools with the funding they need, "We need this to make sure our students are safe. This is a life or death situation."

The HEROES Act has passed the House of Representatives and currently is sitting in the Senate. The bill would be the second relief bill during the COVID-19 pandemic. It includes $915 billion for schools, states and institutions.

If passed as is, the HEROES Act would provide:

  • $90 billion to the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund for states to give to elementary, secondary and post-secondary institutions
  • $58 billion for K-12 schools to continue teaching, buying technology and hotspots for online learning, creating summer learning programs, training and professional development and maintaining school staff
  • $27 billion to support public institutions of higher education
  • $4 billion to governors to distribute to school districts and universities
  • $100 million for Project AWARE, supporting student mental health
  • $7 billion for childcare providers to serve essentials workers and provide tuition relief

RELATED: Here are the reopening plans for Tampa Bay school districts

RELATED: How much will it cost to reopen schools safely with COVID-19 changes?

RELATED: Why are we reopening schools in Florida?

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