Release: Congress Largely Rewards Status Quo in Education in $900 Billion COVID Relief Bill

At a time when families are extremely frustrated and 77 percent of parents with school age children in public school want more school choice, Congress will pump $54 billion into the K-12 system and remove the flexibility afforded to Governors under the previous CARES Act.

The good news in this bill is for the first time Congress has acknowledged that the pandemic does not distinguish between public and non-public schools. They have set aside $2.75 billion in the Governors Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund for aid to non-public schools. Non-public schools that previously participated in the Paycheck Protection Program will still be eligible for these funds. While this is only 5 percent of what public schools will receive (non-public schools educate 10 percent of K-12 students), this set aside is unprecedented and a major win for non-public schools and families.

The bad news is that Democrats in Congress at the behest of the teachers’ unions forced a retreat from the one innovative education policy that was included in the CARES Act – the Governors Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund. Congress has restricted the use of those funds to prevent Governors from using them to create or augment educational choice programs in their states.

Statement from John Schilling, President of the American Federation for Children:

“Six months ago, AFC and other allies around the country began urging Congress to provide new COVID relief for public and non-public schools because both were equally affected by the pandemic. Our nation’s non-public schools have worked hard to safely and responsibly re-open, incurring significant costs to do so. The same cannot be said for too many traditional public schools. We urged Congress to think boldly in this time of crisis by including Sen. Tim Scott’s School Choice Now legislation, which would have channeled non-public school relief directly to families and created a federal tax credit that would have provided much needed flexibility and choice for public and non-public school families alike.

“We also urged Congress to replenish the GEER fund that gave Governors the flexibility to use funds in the best interest of families and students in their states, including creating or expanding educational choice. Instead, the power of the teachers’ unions was flexed again and Congress sent another $50+ billion for public schools, thousands of which have failed to deliver a full time, quality education to millions of students since March. The right complement to this infusion would have been to fully replenish the GEER fund without taking the flexibility away from Governors to give parents more options.

“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.”