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COVID Stimulus Funds for Private School Vouchers?

April 24, 2020

On April 17, 2020, Oklahoma governor, Kevin Stitt, mentioned possibly using some of the education funding derived from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act on Oklahoma’s private schools via the state’s “opportunity scholarship” program. (Specific block-grant, state allocation amounts can be found here.)

Well, Jeb Bush’s Excellence in Education (ExelInEd) organization apparently sees Stitt’s “maybe” as an opportunity to encourage other state governors to slice off a bit of that COVID federal relief to assist with tax credits for paying private school tuition to help save the private schools, as posted on April 23, 2020:

Because of the pandemic, many parents will be unable to afford tuition, and philanthropists may be less able to support scholarships that help low and middle-income children access private schools. Private schools are at risk of closure unless leaders act.

Now, lest you think that diverting money from public schools to potentially struggling private schools is not in the best interest of public schools, ExcelInEd argues on the contrary:

There are consequences when students switch schools. Mobile students are more likely to suffer from decreased academic performance and self-perceptionOne study found that children who switch schools even once between kindergarten and eighth grade are twice as likely to drop out of high school. If this isn’t scary enough, high student mobility impacts non-mobile students as well. States and school districts know that when schools have high a rate of students moving in and out of a school (known as a churn rate) teachers are less able to progress through curricula at a reasonable pace without leaving students behind. As a result, overall academic achievement suffers. Graduation rates decline, too.

If states don’t support private school students and families in the same way they support those who choose public schools, the reverberations of this failure will be felt far and wide.

Miami-Dade, one of the largest school districts in the country, provides an example. If just 10% of the students currently enrolled in private schools in Miami return to the district, Miami’s public schools would have to absorb 6,000+ new students. Schools would increase in size and classes might, too. Facilities could be strained. The state and city would have to find a combined $56 million dollars to support those students coming from private schools. Of course, these negative impacts pale in comparison the trauma that students will endure.

Note that ExcelInEd does not suggest that governors allocate CARES Act money in budgeting for potential increases in public school attendance for “strained facilites” as a result of parents deciding to forego private school in favor of public school. For ExcelInEd, the solution is to assist the private schools.

Moreover, ExcelInEd, which promotes public school churn in its advocating for school choice (which is fluid by nature as charter schools open and close and others open, and when private schools dismiss students for not meeting academic and bahvioral expectations, for example), does not want the particular churn of losing voucher students to public school– or of missing out on this opportunity to increase revenue to school voucher programs for those who can no longer afford private school tuition due to the impact of COVID-19.

It’s all For the Kids. That’s what out anti-public-school US ed sec, Betsy DeVos, says:

Stitt spoke with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos this week and said her advice was to “focus on the kids.”

“Governors have the opportunity to truly rethink and transform the approach to education during this national emergency and ensure learning continues,” DeVos said in a statement.

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Betsy DeVos

However, according to the April 24, 2020, Frontier, allocating federal relief money to Oklahoma’s school voucher tax credit program “may require more transparency”:

Oklahoma’s private school scholarship tax credit program lacks transparency about which schools receive the funding and how much. But if the governor decides to use emergency stimulus funds on the program, as he suggested last week, it might require more detailed reporting on where the scholarships go.  …

Stitt has not officially announced how he will spend the money but has floated the idea of the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship program….

In a letter to lawmakers on Thursday, Secretary of State Michael Rogers, who is also Stitt’s education secretary, said no decision has been made and that media reports of private school scholarship programs being considered “lacks context.”

“Significant portions of this $39.8 million will likely go to traditional public schools, career tech systems, and higher education institutions,” Rogers wrote this week in an email to state lawmakers.  …

Many public education groups immediately rebuked Stitt’s suggestion of using stimulus funds for the scholarship program, including the state Department of Education and the state’s largest teachers union.

“What we were really hoping is he would be looking for ways that he could use those dollars that would impact the most students,” said Erin Brewer, a leader with the Oklahoma Parent Legislative Action Committee, a public school advocacy group.

“That (idea) didn’t really seem reflective of what most Oklahoma public school parents would be looking for, especially during a time when so many kids are struggling to do distance learning.”

Stitt has not committed to sending CARES Act relief money to Oklahoma’s private school voucher program. But Jeb and his people are leveraging Stitt’s “maybe” in order to call other governors to join in saving public private education.

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Jeb Bush

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3 Comments
  1. Sandra Forrest permalink

    OMG, I am so outraged.

  2. Linda permalink

    The info. at the Oklahoma Catholic Conference site– its support for tax credits for scholarships- merits review (btw, tax credits defund government- a goal of libertarians).

    Stimulus funds, if given to religious organizations like private religious schools, are an attack on separation of church and state, according to those who value the nation’s fundamental founding principle.

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