School and health officials "not looking to Washington" for reopening guidelines, former education secretary says

Ex-education secretary on reopening schools
Ex-education secretary on reopening schools 06:51

Last Updated Jul 9, 2020 12:14 PM EDT

The CDC is expected to release "additional reference documents" about reopening schools safely after President Trump criticized the original guidance as "tough" and "expensive." Despite the ongoing controversy, former Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said it will be the states and local communities making the ultimate decision. 

"They're the people who are paying the bills," Spellings said on "CBS This Morning" Thursday. "I think parents are looking to their local officials to understand the needs of that community and that balancing act, and be a party to those decisions." 

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump has been pressuring state and local officials to open schools in the fall despite surging coronavirus cases, including threats to withhold funding from school systems that are not fully reopened. 

Spellings, who is also CEO of nonprofit Texas 2036, said there was "no way" for the president to withhold funding that Congress had already appropriated for schools, and that it would have minimal impact on how much they actually receive. 

"Most of the money for our schools comes from state and local governments. The federal government is a minor investor," she said.

State and local officials know their residents best, she argued.

"They know that every single community is different. Their health issues are different. Every single person, student and teacher, their issues are different," Spellings said.

She called returning to in-person schooling a case of "risk management," and expressed confidence that the transition was possible if every scenario was met with a corresponding contingency plan. 

"If we communicate early and often with our parents about what those plans are, and if we are patient with each other about the need for calling audibles along the way, I think our kids can be back in school in some shape, form or fashion," Spellings said, adding that this could be in-person, remote learning or a hybrid of the two.

Spellings noted there are many valid reasons to encourage reopening, including "learning loss" and the "ability for parents to work," but she said it will be important to maintain a "balancing act" between parents' needs and school safety when it comes to individual children returning. 

"I think parents need options, and I think ultimately these are parental decisions," she said. "If a parent is still uncomfortable or if the family member or student has compromising conditions, then that parent out to be able to make the call to keep their child at home, learning online or in some sort of hybrid."