PFPS Blogs About Federal Efforts to Divert Public Funds to Private Education

The following PFPS blog post appeared on the website of In The Public Interest. ITPI is a national nonprofit research and policy organization that studies public goods and services, including public education. ITPI asked PFPS to blog about recent federal efforts to divert public money to private education as part of COVID-19 relief legislation. Information about PFPS litigation challenging the attempt by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to divert CARES Act funds meant for public education to private schools is available here.

You’ve got to hand it to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Even during a pandemic that’s hitting the U.S. hard and caused every state to physically close schools, she has not wavered from her agenda of using public dollars to subsidize private education. Her boss, President Trump, has spent the past few months trying to help her out, pushing private school voucher policies that have failed for years to gain congressional support.

Now come two federal bills that make no illusions about diverting taxpayer dollars to private schools, even though the nation’s public schools are struggling mightily to reopen their doors while simultaneously improving virtual learning for students who will still be at home.

Senate Republicans recently put forward a stimulus bill that would divert approximately 10 percent of the $70 billion earmarked for K-12 education to private schools. At the same time, Senators Lamar Alexander and Tim Scott have introduced a tax credit voucher bill that would divert $5 billion annually in federal tax reimbursements for contributions to organizations that give out private school vouchers.

Some state leaders aren’t waiting to see if either bill becomes law. The governors of South Carolina, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Florida have declared their intention to divert portions of their CARES Act funds—coronavirus relief aid passed by Congress earlier this year—to private school vouchers. In South Carolina, a judge put a temporary hold on Governor McMaster’s decision to use $32 million in pandemic aid for vouchers.

And a recent report showed that private schools across the country received between $2.67 and $6.47 billion from the Paycheck Protection Program, a source of federal pandemic aid under the CARES Act unavailable to traditional public schools.

What does all this mean? Already underfunded public schools, which are open to all and educate 90 percent of students nationwide, need significant additional resources to keep providing students in need with meals and other essentials. They need to purchase PPE and adjust classrooms for physical distancing. They need to provide devices and hot spots for continued remote learning. And they need to support student learning and social-emotional needs.

Just as state and local budgets are tanking, DeVos, Trump, and others want to divert public money from a public good that has never seemed so essential for children, families, and communities everywhere.

Now more than ever, public funds should support public schools.

Public Funds Public Schools is a national campaign supported by the Southern Poverty Law Center, SPLC Action Fund, Education Law Center, and Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP that strives to ensure that all public funds for education are used to maintain and support public schools. PFPS uses a range of tools to protect and promote public education, including litigation, advocacy, and research. Sign up for PFPS updates here.

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