In addition to an almost insulting level of aid for Americans unable to make a living because of the coronavirus pandemic and attendant shutdown restrictions, the bipartisan “relief” bill announced by Congress on Tuesday contains a provision disallowing governors from using emergency funds to provide desperately-needed school choice.
Despite the $54 billion bailout the bill offers public schools, many of which remain closed and unable to serve the needs of students, the language in it specifically restricts any help for families desperate to provide an education for their children during these difficult times. In what is likely a gift to teachers’ unions, which aggressively lobby against any alternatives to public schools, the bill reads:
“Funds provided under this section shall not be used – A) to provide direct or indirect financial assistance to scholarship granting organizations or related entitles for elementary or secondary education; or B) to provide or support vouchers, tuition tax credit programs, education savings accounts, scholarships, scholarship programs, or tuition-assistance programs for elementary or secondary education.”
In the previous COVID relief bill, the CARES Act, a relatively small, flexible fund was assigned to governors, and in some states, those funds were partially used to fund alternative education options for families in closed school districts and elsewhere. For example, in states like South Carolina, Oklahoma, and New Hampshire, those flexible dollars were used for scholarships and other direct education aid for families. While some of those programs will be grandfathered in via an exception, this language in the proposed new stimulus package bars governors from continuing to use federal aid in the ways that best suit families rather than unions.
This latest insult comes on the heels of the revealing debates over school closures that have raged across the country in districts where teachers’ unions have held the doors of schools firmly shut despite growing evidence that students, especially those most disadvantaged are suffering for it. Not content with closing the public schools, unions have also lobbied to close off other options for parents, including passing caps on virtual charter schools, discouraging learning “pods,” and attempting to shut down private schools that remained open.