COVID 19 Crisis Reinforces Critical Need for K-12 Flexibility and Choice

The COVID 19 crisis has dealt a devastating blow to American life as we know it, and K-12 education has not been spared.  What this crisis has taught us so far, is just how much we need greater flexibility and choice in our K-12 system.

Today, nearly 55 million K-12 children in 47 states are at home with their families.  Unfortunately, far too many of these families lack the necessary educational resources from school districts to help their children continue to learn during this crisis. In fact, last Saturday Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued clarified guidance and a rebuke of schools who were using concerns about disability law as an excuse to not provide distance instruction for the rest of the students.  Bravo Madam Secretary!

Congress, after nearly a week of debate, is on the cusp of passing a massive $2 trillion COVID 3 bill, the CARES Act, which includes $30 billion for an “educational stabilization fund”.  About $14 billion of the money is for K-12.  The funds will be used to help with increased costs related to the coronavirus and to help school districts develop plans for providing distance learning for students. It’s unclear exactly how much of this money will actually go to student learning.  This puts parents in a tough spot because right now there are too many kids who are not able to do any school work.

We would have liked to see at least some of that $14 billion going directly to lower and middle income families for educational purposes.  At AFC, our view has always been that every American family should have the freedom to choose the best educational environment for their child.  That has never been more important than it is right now.

In addition, we are deeply concerned about the effect of this crisis on faith-based private schools who are successfully educating more than a million lower income and minority students.  These schools are dealing with a sharp drop in tuition payments from families hardest hit by the crisis. While private schools will be able to access some federal resources in the form of equitable services – the funding for which is handled by school districts – it is not entirely clear how they would be able to use the small business loans included in the CARES Act.

Going forward, it’s essential to inject more innovation and greater flexibility in the K-12 system.  Regrettably, the $14 billion included in the CARES Act doesn’t go nearly far enough in this regard.

Should there be a COVID 4 bill, we urge the White House and Senate Republicans to insist on greater flexibility and direct empowerment of families, including the families whose children attend faith-based private schools.

How about providing funding for Education Savings Accounts for lower income and middle class families so they could begin taking online courses immediately or summer courses when schools reopen?

How about further expanding 529 accounts so families can use those funds for homeschooling or other education expenses?

How about enacting pending Education Freedom Scholarships legislation which could generate $5 billion in scholarship money from corporate and individual contributions to non-profit Scholarship Granting Organizations?

These are incredibly difficult times.  Every American should be grateful to our health care workers; to federal, state, and local government workers; and even to Congress for moving at an incredible pace to pass – assuming the House of Representatives moves swiftly – the largest piece of legislation in American history.  But let’s also not forget about the importance of a quality education for every child during and after this crisis.  We cannot settle for status quo solutions, we must inject more flexibility and choice in the K-12 system right now.