Now that the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package has passed Congress and has been signed into law by President Biden we are learning what it contains. Tucked inside is $2.75 billion in aid for private schools. The most shocking part of the inclusion of this funding, which is something former U.S. Education Betsy DeVos would have advocated for if she was still in office, is who added this money to the legislation. The New York Time’s Erica Green reported yesterday that the effort was led by New York’s Democratic Senator Charles Schumer. As if this wasn’t remarkable in its own right, apparently the move was seconded by Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers union.
Perhaps this pandemic has turned the world inside out.
Ms. Green revealed that Mr. Schumer fought for these dollars as a result of lobbying by New York City’s Orthodox Jewish community and made it into the act right before final approval by the House of Representatives. Catholic groups also got behind the idea.
In the past, the only revenue going directly to private schools from Congress has been to provide low-income parents with school vouchers for their children in Washington, D.C. as part of the Opportunity Scholarship Program included in the the SOAR Act. The Times seems to understand the magnitude of the change. From the article:
“We never anticipated Senate Democrats would proactively choose to push us down the slippery slope of funding private schools directly,” said Sasha Pudelski, the advocacy director at AASA, the School Superintendents Association, one of the groups that wrote letters to Congress protesting the carve-out. “The floodgates are open and now with bipartisan support, why would private schools not ask for more federal money?”
Ms. Green indicated that the National Education Association put up some resistance to the inclusion of this cash. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was not a supporter. In addition, Ms. Green pointed out that “Senator Patty Murray, the chairwoman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, was said to have been so unhappy that she fought to secure last-minute language that stipulated the money be used for ‘nonpublic schools that enroll a significant percentage of low‐income students and are most impacted by the qualifying emergency.’”
Mr. Schumer was glad to take credit for his accomplishment. Ms. Green added, “In a statement to Jewish Insider, Mr. Schumer said, ‘This fund, without taking any money away from public schools, will enable private schools, like yeshivas and more, to receive assistance and services that will cover Covid-related expenses they incur as they deliver quality education for their students.'”
But what Mr. Schumer claimed about not taking dollars away from public schools is not true. The New York Times found that the original aid contained in this legislation contained about $3 billion more for public schools. However, you don’t need to worry that they were shortchanged. The Times piece said that the bill contains $125 billion in Kindergarten through twelfth grade funding for public school with an additional $3 billion for special education and another $800 million in support for homeless students. The magnitude of the taxpayer funding for public schools is the reason that Ms. Weingarten was all right with the private school money. The Times article claimed that Ms. Weingarten said it “was the right thing to do.”
Now, there is no reason that a private school education cannot be offered to children nationwide by the federal government.