News Analysis Dec 23, 2020 1:33 PM EST

COVID relief bill diminishes school choice opportunities for American families

Despite the fact that the relief package provides an upcoming $54 billion to flow into the K-12 public school system, it severely undercuts non-public schools.

COVID relief bill diminishes school choice opportunities for American families
Nicole Russell Texas, US
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The US Congress passed a COVID relief bill that will dampen the efforts of school choice advocates, removing the flexibility that state Governors had to fund school choice under the previous CARES Act.

Despite the fact that the relief package provides an upcoming $54 billion to flow into the K-12 public school system, it severely undercuts non-public schools, like charter schools—even though, according to the American Federation for Children, "77 percent of parents with school age children in public school want more school choice."

Corey A. DeAngelis, Adjunct Scholar at Cato Institute, recently named on the Forbes "30 under 30" list of influential people, sounded the alarm on social media.

"The COVID relief bill prohibits governors from funding students directly instead of institutions," DeAngelis wrote.

According to the bill, Congress approved over $50 billion for public schools, despite the fact that for much of 2020, many of these schools remained physically closed and schools and unions opted to teach children via virtual classrooms, a poor substitute for in-person learning.

However, had the Governors Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund been replenished, an "innovative education policy that was included in the CARES Act," they could have had the ability to expand school choice opportunities in their state so families' school choices could be adequately funded.

"Congress has restricted the use of those funds to prevent Governors from using them to create or augment educational choice programs in their states," a statement from the American Federation for Children reads.

Many of the country's non-public schools--charter, private, and religious—schools safely and responsibly re-opened during the COVID pandemic, whereas most traditional public schools had to remain closed. Many families could have used relief earmarked directly for them, creating a federal tax credit, enabling them to use a non-traditional public school for their children.

John Schilling, President of the American Federation for Children, said in a statement, "Considering 77 percent of parents with school-aged children in public school support school choice, this was a huge missed opportunity. America's students – especially those from lower income, working class, and special needs families who have been most harmed by the pandemic—deserved better. This is a matter of social justice and we will continue to assist families and students across America convince state and federal policymakers to empower them directly and put their interests first."

"Governors in states like Oklahoma, New Hampshire, and South Carolina  decided to use GEER dollars from the previous stimulus to fund students directly.

That decision is not permitted this time around," DeAngelis tweeted.

The pandemic hit US schools particularly hard, forcing many to close out of fear for spreading the virus, despite the fact that studies show children rarely are infected with or are carriers of COVID-19. Even though experts have suggested for months that schools should open in-person, many remained close, acting as another jump off point for sparking a debate about school choice. DeAngelis often advocates that students should be funded, not schools, and thus allowing parents to take those student-labeled funds and send that student where he best fits, not just whatever public school is in his district.

There are other education provisions in the stimulus bill that include, among other things, simplifying the federal financial aid application process, expanding the number of students eligible for federal aid, forgiving over $1 billion in federal loans held by HBCUs, and reversing the ban on Pell grants for prisoners.

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