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As his presidency draw to a close, President Donald Trump took a final step toward ensuring educational equality for students by issuing an executive order on "Expanding Educational Opportunity through School Choice."
The order was issued to allow parents to take their tax dollars and spend them on private or religious schools, should their public schools refuse to open due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The order was issued "in order to ensure the education, health, safety, and well-being of America’s children, our most essential resource upon which the future of our great Nation depends."
The order outlined the "purpose" and the plan, which was in order to begin "providing emergency learning scholarships for students."
It read that, as a result of so many school districts shut down to in person learning "as part of their efforts to address the public health challenges and uncertainties posed by the COVID-19 pandemic," the "vast majority of our more than 56 million elementary and secondary school students" have been deprived of an education.
"Since then, however," it reads, "our Nation has identified effective measures to facilitate the safe resumption of in-person learning, and the Federal Government has provided more than $13 billion to States and school districts to implement those measures."
Trump decried "The prolonged deprivation of in-person learning opportunities," which have "produced undeniably dire consequences for the children of this country."
He discussed the CDC's determination that schools should be open, and that "school attendance is negatively correlated with a child’s risk of depression and various types of abuse."
Trump pointed out what so many school districts and children's advocates have become aware of, namely that there have been "substantial declines in reports of child maltreatment while school buildings have been closed, indicating that allegations are going unreported." Mistreatment of children, as well as the impact of school closures on food security, children's physical activity, and socialization, have become a serious issue for America's youth, and therefore her future.
"Additionally," it reads, "a recent survey of educators found student absences from school, including virtual learning, have nearly doubled during the pandemic, and as AAP has noted, chronic absenteeism is associated with alcohol and drug use, teenage pregnancy, juvenile delinquency, and suicide attempts."
School closures, he goes on to say, have been "especially difficult for families with children with special needs. Schools provide not only academic supports for students with special needs, but they also provide much-needed in-person therapies and services, including physical and occupational therapies.
"A recent survey found that 80 percent of children with special needs are not receiving the services and supports to which they are entitled and that approximately 40 percent of children with special needs are receiving no services or supports. Moreover, the survey found that virtual learning may not be fully accessible to these students, as children with special needs are twice as likely to receive little or no remote learning and to be dissatisfied with the remote learning received."
In addition, those kids that are most in need of the stability provided by a school atmosphere, low-income kids, are also disproportionately affected by school closures. In low-income zip codes, students' math progress decreased by nearly 50 percent while school buildings were closed in the spring, and the math progress of students in middle-income zip codes fell by almost a third during the same period. A recent analysis projected that, if in-person classes do not fully resume until January 2021, Hispanic, Black, and low-income students will lose 9.2, 10.3, and 12.4 months of learning, respectively.
"A failure to quickly resume in-person learning options is likely to have long-term economic effects on children and their families. According to a recent study, if in person classes do not fully resume until January 2021, the average student could lose $61,000 to $82,000 in lifetime earnings, or the equivalent of a year of full-time work. Additionally, in 2019, more than 90 percent of children under the age of 18 had at least one employed parent. Many employed parents do not have the option of engaging in remote work that allows them the flexibility to supervise their children during the day when in-person learning options are not available. Without the resumption of in-person learning opportunities, the economic and social harms resulting from such lost employment opportunities will continue to compound."
This is why Trump has determined that the "Department of Health and Human Services recently announced additional relief for low income parents by allowing States to use funds available through the Child Care and Development Fund to subsidize child care services and services that supplement academic instruction for children under the age of 13 who are participating in virtual instruction. Nevertheless, virtual instruction is an inadequate substitute for in-person learning opportunities and this aid is insufficient to meet current needs.
"While some families, especially those with financial means, have been able to mitigate school disruptions through in person options such as homeschooling, private schools, charter schools, and innovative models like microschools and 'learning pods,' for many families, their children's residentially assigned public school remains their only financially available option. Unfortunately, more than 50 percent of all public-school students in the United States began school remotely this fall. These children, including those with special needs, are being underserved due to the public education system’s failure to provide in-person learning options.
"Students whose families pay tuition for their education are also facing significant hardships due to the economic disruptions caused by the pandemic. Scores of private schools, including approximately 100 Catholic schools, have permanently closed since the onset of COVID-19, and more than half of our Nation’s private schools are believed to have lost enrollment due to the pandemic. These closures and declining enrollments are harmful to students, bad for communities, and likely to impose increased strain on public school systems."
Trump said that he is "committed to ensuring that all children of our great Nation have access to the educational resources they need to obtain a high-quality education and to improving students’ safety and well-being, including by empowering families with emergency learning scholarships."
The scholarships may be used for: tuition and fees for a private or parochial school; homeschool, microschool, or learning-pod costs; special education and related services, including therapies; or tutoring or remedial education."
There had been concerns as regarded the COVID relief and spending bills pending in the House of Representatives, signed by the president on Dec. 27, that states would not have the leeway many of them desired to allow more options with regard to the education funding heading their way. This executive order will stand until such time as a future president overturns it. President-elect Joe Biden has promised to overturn Trump's executive orders when he arrives in the Oval Office.