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A majority of voters oppose the Trump administration's demand that K-12 schools and day care centers be fully opened for in-person instruction during the coming academic year, according to a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll.
In addition, a decisive 65 percent of voters rejected President Donald Trump's threat to cut federal funding for schools that don't reopen, agreeing instead that schools need resources for continued virtual learning or other types of instruction. Only 22 percent said schools should have their federal money reduced if they don’t fully reopen.
The findings come as Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos dial up their drive for a return to in-person instruction in a bid to revive the economy, even as coronavirus cases skyrocket. On Tuesday, DeVos with Vice President Mike Pence visited Louisiana State University to again argue that college students should be back on campus. But the poll findings indicate that most voters are not persuaded.
Fifty-three percent of voters say they are somewhat or strongly opposed to fully reopening day cares or K-12 schools, while a slightly smaller 50 percent say they are opposed to fully reopening colleges and universities.
The Trump campaign hopes the issue will play well with women and suburban voters, whose support will be key to Trump beating Joe Biden in November. But that calculation may be off— the poll showed slightly stronger opposition to fully reopening K-12 schools from women (56 percent) than men (50 percent). Most suburbanites (55 percent) are strongly or somewhat opposed, too.
Women were slightly more opposed (53 percent) than men (47 percent) to colleges and universities fully reopening, as well, while 53 percent of suburbanites opposed the idea, somewhat or strongly.
The poll surveyed 1,992 registered voters between July 10 and 12 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has split with Trump, saying a "one size fits all" model won't work for reopening schools, The government's top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, said on a podcast Tuesday that "to the best of our capability, we should try as best as possible to get children back to school. And the reason we say that is because the unintended consequences and the negative ripple effects of keeping children out of school can have significant deleterious consequences."
But he added, "You don't want to send children back to school with a substantial risk to their health. You've got to do whatever you can to mitigate any negative effects on their health.”
Some of America’s largest school districts are rejecting Trump’s pressure campaign, with the Los Angeles and San Diego school districts announcing on Monday they will start the upcoming school year with full distance learning. Other districts are considering just two or three days a week in the classroom, with kids continuing to learn from home the rest of the time.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said her union members want to reopen schools, but they say it must be done safely. And she blamed the Trump administration for not having such a plan.
“They may operate with their recklessness about bars, and about Trump's rallies, but people across the country who are close to children are not going to be reckless with children or with their teachers’ lives,” she said. “And that's why you're seeing different people, different decisions being made very much dependent on what the current state of the COVID is in a region.”
In suburban D.C., the superintendent for Arlington Public Schools in Virginia told parents on Tuesday that he is proposing postponing the Aug. 31 start of the academic year until Sept. 8, and he said the district will begin the school year virtually in the full-time distance learning model for all students.
"Throughout our planning, the health and safety of our staff and students has been our top priority, and beginning the year with a virtual model allows us to continue to monitor the situation until we are confident it is safe to return," Francisco Durán wrote in an email to families.
Families have been given until July 20 to choose either a virtual or hybrid option. Durán says the goal is to slowly phase in in-person instruction based on health data.
In the poll, generally speaking, respondents are more concerned about the public health impact of the virus (60 percent) than they are about its economic impact (30 percent). Most — 76 percent — said Americans should continue to social distance for as long as is needed.
They’re divided on whether the push to reopen schools is happening because it would boost the economy (41 percent) or because it would benefit students’ learning (43 percent).
"Voters are split over if the push to reopen schools ahead of a new academic year benefits students’ learning or benefits the American economy, but there are partisan differences. Democratic voters are more likely to say the push is to benefit the economy, while Republican voters believe the push has students’ learning at heart,” said Kyle Dropp, co-founder and chief research officer at Morning Consult.
Morning Consult is a global data intelligence company, delivering insights on what people think in real time by surveying tens of thousands across the globe every single day.