Pastides Alumni Center
University of South Carolina
Columbia, South Carolina
As we see rising coronavirus cases not just in South Carolina, but across the Sun Belt, we’re particularly grateful for your leadership and the steps that you’ve taken since the outset of this pandemic. And on the President’s behalf, and on behalf of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, we want to be clear to all the great education leaders around this table and all the people of South Carolina that we’re with you and we’re going stay with you every step of the way.
We have — we all have the same mission: to save lives, protect the most vulnerable, slow the spread, even as we open up America and open up America’s schools again. And South Carolina has been about this process because of your leadership. You’ve seen your economy coming back and people going back to work.
And, Governor, let me begin by saying that the President and I fully support your decision to return students to school after Labor Day. We believe it’s absolutely essential for our students, for working families, and for — and for our efforts to open up America again that we open up America schools. And that’s why I was particularly grateful to have a chance to spend some time with the education leaders that are gathered around here.
Let me — let me begin by thanking not only you, Governor and the First Lady, but I also want to thank President Bob Caslen the entire team at University of South Carolina. It is an honor to be here on your campus.
DR. CASLEN: Great to have you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you for your innovative leadership, as well, during this very challenging time.
We’ve brought along some of the best members of our team to listen and to advise the education leaders and your administration here, Governor. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is with us, as well as Seema Verma, who runs the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Both of them are committed to work with each one of you to make it possible for us to not only slow the spread, save lives, but also reopen schools all across South Carolina from K-through-12 to higher education.
And, Governor, I just — I want to assure you that as we turn our attention to education today, as we heard in the briefing this morning, we’re going to continue to surge resources to expand testing that is so critical to bringing students back to campuses like the University of South Carolina.
We’re going to continue to make sure your hospitals, whose capacity remains strong in this state, have the personal protective supplies and equipment to meet this moment. You recently received a new supply of remdesivir. We’ll continue to surge therapeutics, even as we drive relentlessly toward obtaining a vaccine for the American people, we hope and trust, before the end of this year.
But on the subject of education: As you know, Governor, from early in this pandemic, President Trump has worked with leaders in both political parties and leaders in our administration to make it possible to ease the burden on students and on educators. We allowed for a distance learning flexibility through the Department of Education. We suspended student loan payments to lift the burden on students during a challenging time.
And I’m proud to say, as we begin discussions on Capitol Hill about another round of relief and recovery funding, that that we’ve received bipartisan support, including strong support from Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator Tim Scott, to already have appropriated over $30 billion for state education efforts. That would be $13 billion for elementary and secondary programs, and $14.25 billion for higher education.
And, Governor, I know you recently made an announcement that $1.9 billion in funds that the state of South Carolina has received under the CARES Act will be deployed to school districts, institutions of higher education.
And let me just assure you, as negotiations begin this week with leaders in both political parties about a new relief bill, that education is going to be in the forefront of our relief efforts, right after our focus on ensuring that our healthcare workers have everything they need to give anyone struggling with the coronavirus the healthcare that any one of us would want a family member to have. We’re going to focus on opening up America and making sure states have the resources to open up the schools, just as you have purpose to do here in South Carolina.
And we know — we know it’s the right thing to do. We know to open up America again, we need to open up America schools. But it’s also right on the facts: All of the top medical advisors to the White House Coronavirus Task Force have observed from early on that the risk that the coronavirus poses to young people is very low.
And, in fact, to hear from the National Academies of Science and Medicines, to hear from the American Academy of Pediatrics, they’re actually — there are almost greater risks to children not being in school than there are to children being in school.
The educators around this table know, as you know, Governor McMaster, that there are literally millions of American kids who rely on school for counseling, for special needs education, for nutrition. Thirty million American children participate in the National School Lunch Program, which I know you used the National Guard here in South Carolina to continue even in the midst of the pandemic. Fifteen million kids participate in the National School Breakfast Program. Seven million children struggle with emotional needs, and they receive the counseling for that in our schools.
So for the sake of our kids, for the sake of their wellbeing, Governor, the President and I believe you are 100 percent right in making the decision to get our kids back in the classroom here in South Carolina.
But beyond that, it’s also right for working families. We think particularly of single mothers who will — and fathers — who will bear a disproportionate burden of school closures. It’s difficult to go back to work if you’ve got a dependent child at home. And I heard one statistic on the way here, on Air Force Two, that there is an estimate that only 21 percent of single parents can telecommute. And so making it possible for people to return to the workforce, it’s right for working families that we reopen our schools as well.
So, Governor, I want to commend you for your leadership throughout this pandemic, the way you’ve put the health and safety of the people of South Carolina first. I want to thank both of your senators and your congressional delegation that have worked with us to provide the support and the resources.
I pledge to you that we’re going to continue to make sure that you have the resources here in South Carolina to meet this moment, to provide that healthcare to slow the spread, and also to continue to open up South Carolina and open up South Carolina schools. It’s best for our kids, it’s the best for working families, and it’s the best for South Carolina and America.
But with that being said, we’re here to listen about how we can best assist you beyond the resources. I’m pleased to report to you, in the days ahead, in addition to CDC guidance that has been issued literally since March, we’re preparing additional new resources that will give guidance to schools at every level about how to safely reopen schools. And that guidance will be coming out in the days ahead.
Finally, I would just take the opportunity to say that we all have a role to play to safely reopen our schools. We just want to continue to encourage the people of South Carolina, as you — as you see this state going back to work and as you aspire to see us going back to school, K-through-12 or on great campuses like this of higher education: Let’s all do our part.
We encourage everyone to practice good hygiene. Wash your hands, wear a mask wherever the state and local authorities indicate that it’s necessary or recommended, and wear a mask whenever social distancing is not possible.
You know, I like to say it’s — it’s always a good idea to wear a mask these days, and it’s one way each of us can do our part to protect the most vulnerable, to reopen our economy, to reopen our schools.
And so we want to thank the people of South Carolina for the great efforts that you have made in every respect in the midst of this pandemic, and just assure you, Governor, and the people of this great state that President Trump, myself, our entire administration is going to stay with you until we reach that day that we put the coronavirus in the past.
But I thank you for the opportunity to have this conversation and to listen in to all of these great educators. And let me take this opportunity to introduce everyone to my favorite educator. She happens to be the Second Lady of the United States. Has been my wife for 35 years. But she is a classroom school teacher, and she has a heart for kids. And I wanted to recognize her for some opening remarks.
THE SECOND LADY: Thank you. You know, as a teacher myself, I want to just take a moment to thank all the teachers because we all quickly learned how to do online teaching, and it wasn’t something that our teachers across America were familiar with, and so I applaud the teachers who stepped up right away. I know at our school it was a lot of, you know, me emailing the IT specialist saying, “Okay, now wait a minute. How do I put these art projects in a folder on this new platform?” And I know the teachers worked really, really hard.
But the parents are really the unsung heroes — and I know we have some parents in the room today — because they really had to get up to speed, and many of them were trying to telework from home as well and trying to juggle the time on the computer. “Okay, I have a Zoom meeting and you have a Zoom class. Hang on. Let’s figure this out.” It added a lot of stress to our families. So thank you to all the parents.
But it’s our kids who are struggling, and they need their friends, and they need their teachers. And I’ve got to tell you: I love seeing the kids over here in the audience today. It makes me eager to get back in the classroom. But they need their routines, and the routines won’t be exactly the same. I mean, I’m an art teacher, and I don’t get to teach in my art room this year. I go cart — with a cart, from room to room, because it’s going to keep the kids safer. They have their own supplies. I don’t set out supplies this year. So there are ways that we can make it safe for our kids. But they need their routines — whatever the new routines are.
So the decision to open up schools greatly impacts our children. It impacts them academically, which we’re seeing; it impacts them socially; and it impacts them emotionally. And so our kids, for their mental health and for their academic health, need to be back in school.
So thank you for letting me be here today.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Great. Thank you, Karen. And with that, Governor, with your permission, I thought we’d recognize the Secretary of Education for some opening remarks, and then we’ll hear from all of these great leaders around the table.
(Roundtable discussion begins.)
(Roundtable discussion concludes.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Janie. Well, just one minute, Katie. You can — Janie, thank you for those very eloquent words. I hope you will give Marsh a hug for us.
MS. NEELEY: He’s not great at social distancing. (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That’s right. I’ll bet he’s not.