June 12, 2021

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Rubio says the cost of keeping schools closed is ‘extraordinary’

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., in Russell Building on Wednesday, June 24, 2020.

Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call | Getty Images

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio suggested Monday that some high-risk Florida counties take “additional measures” to reopen schools in the fall as the state gets battered by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think we need to be flexible about all sorts of things,” Rubio said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” while stressing that “the costs of not reopening our schools are extraordinary.”

The senator’s remarks came a day after Florida reported the largest single-day increase in positive Covid-19 cases of any state since the crisis began. More than 15,000 cases were confirmed Sunday in the Sunshine state.

Less than a week earlier, Florida’s education commissioner ordered schools throughout the state to reopen in August for in-person instruction at least five days a week.

In a tweet later Monday morning, Rubio reiterated that despite the risks, “at some point this fall kids need to be back in school.”

Despite the record-breaking number of infections, Rubio said most Florida counties will be able to safely reopen their schools on schedule.

“Florida’s an enormous state. We have 67 counties. I spent over a week now in northwest Florida where the vast majority of the counties could reopen. They’re not facing this,” Rubio said. “So I think in many of our counties the answer to that question is yes, we could.”

In the counties being hardest hit by the surge in cases, Rubio said he believed extra precautions should be taken – but he did not suggest that those areas should wait longer to reopen their schools.

For those areas, “I think we are going to have to take additional measures to be able reopen schools and I think we need to be flexible about all sorts of things,” Rubio said.

“It isn’t going to be school the way we’re used to in normal times, but at some point you have to make those decisions on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis: What are the costs of not reopening schools, what are the benefits with regard to the virus for not opening schools,” Rubio said. “And I think in the short and long term the costs are extraordinary.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, agreed. 

“I have no doubt we can do this safely,” DeSantis said at a press conference Thursday, CNN reported. “We spent months saying that there were certain things that were essential — that included fast food restaurants, it included Walmart, it included Home Depot. If fast food and Walmart and Home Depot — and look, I do all that, so I’m not looking down on it — but if all that is essential, then educating our kids is absolutely essential.”

President Donald Trump has pushed state leaders to reopen their schools in the fall, threatening to cut off funding if in-person classes don’t resume. Vice President Mike Pence said that the Trump administration is considering ways to use a potential additional round of federal coronavirus relief to provide “incentives” for schools to reopen their doors.

Teachers’ advocates have pushed back on the pressure to get kids back in the classroom, warning that reopening prematurely could pose risks. 

The nation’s second largest teachers union last week announced it would launch a $1 million ad campaign aimed at lobbying Congress to approve additional funds to help schools prepare for reopening.

Rubio told “Squawk Box” that lawmakers in Washington, D.C., need to do more to combat the spread of the virus and blunt the economic and societal impacts of the pandemic.

“I don’t have any doubt we do, particularly for smaller firms,” he said. “I think we’re 90% of the way there in terms of putting together some ideas about how to help truly small business under 300 employees or less, microtargeted not just for payroll but for the costs of paying for some of these adaptive technologies that they have to come up with to comply with local regulations.”

He added: “We’re going to have to be nimble and flexible here, because as this virus’ impact on our economy evolves our policies will to have to evolve to keep pace.”

— CNBC’s Christina Wilkie contributed to this report.

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