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The influential chairman of the U.S. Senate's education committee, Lamar Alexander, is voicing support for additional funding for colleges and K-12 schools in the next coronavirus stimulus package to help them reopen.

During an interview on CNBC’s Squawk Box on Tuesday, Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee and former president of the University of Tennessee, said Congress should makes sure the nation’s schools and colleges “have the money they need to open safely in the fall. I mean, the surest step back toward normalcy in our country is when 70 to 75 million college and high school and elementary school students go back to school. They need to go back. Their parents need for them to go back. And the economy needs for them to go back. So if we need more money for that, I'm for that.”

His comments came as discussions on an additional package are expected to begin in earnest after the Senate returns from its Independence Day recess in the middle of July, having less than a month to work out a bill with the House, before leaving Aug. 10 for another break when the parties will hold their conventions.

Republicans have balked at passing a stimulus as large as the $3 trillion HEROES Act that the Democratically controlled House has passed.

The remarks are a slight change from a speech Alexander gave on the Senate floor June 11, when he expressed openness to supporting additional education funding tailored for reopening schools and colleges. Referring to K-12 schools, he said administrators are reluctant to take risks. “I think it's in our interests to make sure that principals and school boards know that they'll have sufficient funds to open 100,000 public schools safely,” he said.

But Alexander also noted that Congress has already given billions to education in the previous coronavirus packages. If more funding is needed, “we need to be open to that,” he said. “But not before we see whether it's really needed.”