The Bottom Line A Win for Private Schools
Democratic politicians and teacher union leaders are joined at the hip. For example, the National Education Association spent $23 million during the 2020 election cycle, with 99% allocated to Democratic candidates. Similarly, 98.6% of the American Federation of Teachers’ nearly $10.7 million in political contributions went to Democrats. In turn, teacher unions can expect unwavering Democratic support for their union agendas.
Increasingly, unions view private schools, charter schools, and other school choice avenues as threats. According to Clint Bolick and Kate J. Hardiman, “Unions are no longer merely promoting their members’ interests and stifling new reforms — they are now using their considerable muscle to roll back reforms that have improved education and expanded student opportunities.” Any type of public funding allocated toward private schools has been under political siege.
Yet most surprisingly, Democrat Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer (NY), advocated that private schools receive $2.75 billion as part of the American Rescue Plan. Schumer, motivated by the powerful New York City Orthodox Jewish Community lobby, immediately came under attack by fellow Democrats, teacher unions, and public school associations.
According to The New York Times, Democrats had intently sought to restrict private school funding to $200 million of the $1.9 trillion bill, until Schumer, “in the 11th hour, struck the House provision and inserted $2.75 billion — about 12 times more funding than the House had allowed.” That increased the private school funding allocation from 0.01 percent to a still meager 0.14 percent of the total economic relief package.
The bill was signed into law on March 11 by the President. Public K-12 schools will receive $126 billion. Combine that with $13.2 billion from the March 2020 CARES ACT and the $54 billion of the December 2020 Covid Relief Package for a total of $193.2 billion. Run the numbers, and you’ll find that private schools will receive only 1.42 percent of the federal funding public schools will receive. Not much to balk at when private schools enroll 11.4 percent of the nation’s 50.8 million K-12 students.
The coming $2.75 billion private school funding breaks down to approximately $500 per private school student nationally. The funds will not be evenly distributed — schools most impacted by COVID-19 and enrolling low-income students will receive greater funding than others. Furthermore, as reported by Bond, Schoeneck, and King, “in order to receive the ARP Act funds, it is likely that a private school must certify that it did not and will not apply for and received a loan under the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) on or after Dec. 27, 2020.” In other words, the funding allocated for private schools is restrictive.
With Schumer’s actions, outrage quickly erupted from Democrat leaders, including Nancy Pelosi (CA), Speaker of the House, Robert Scott (VA), Chairman of the House Education Committee, and Patty Murray (WA), Chairwoman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.
Sasha Pudelski, Advocacy Director at the AASA School Superintendent Association, described Schumer’s allocation as a slippery slope that could open the floodgates for future federal funds to flow to private schools. In a formal letter to Schumer on March 5, the AASA stated, “We are deeply disappointed to see Senate Democratic leadership continue the privatization agenda advanced by former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos…and include a dedicated stream of $2.75 billion in funding away from public K12 education to support private schools.”
As surprising as Schumer’s move was the public statement of support by Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers. In stark contrast to her long-term militant blockage of public funds for private education, Weingarten told The New York Times, “it would be a ‘shonda’ if we didn’t actually provide the emotional support and nonreligious supports that all of our children need right now.”
Weingarten’s malice toward private education had been made clear by her 2017 speech about private schools, in which Weingarten said, “Make no mistake: This use of privatization, coupled with disinvestment are only slightly more polite cousins of segregation”— an unfounded accusation. In reality, school choice avenues including vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, and educational savings accounts “help to mitigate the effects of residential segregation, providing low-income students of color an escape route” to private schools. Similarly, charter schools are far from segregated as nationwide Hispanic students make up 33 percent, and Black students make up 26 percent of enrolled students, exceeding traditional public schools in both demographics — the data directly disproves Weingarten’s false assertion.
It’s doubtful Weingarten had a change of heart. Instead, her support for this drop-in-the-bucket private school COVID-19 relief funding, like Schumer’s, is intended to maintain her personal ties to and support of the Orthodox Jewish community. The use of the word shonda (Yiddish for “scandal”) by Weingarten, who comes from a New York City Jewish family, was a dead giveaway. Weingarten and Schumer both recognize the political dynamics — trading short-term criticism from fellow Democratic leaders for long-term loyalty from the Jewish community.
Regardless of motives, the unprecedented funding provision is a long-overdue win for private schools and their students. Private schools that rolled up their sleeves and scrambled to quickly put expensive protective and sanitizing precautions in place over last summer should be no less eligible than public schools for government COVID-19 relief.
Often left out of the conversation is a crucial fact — private school families not only pay federal taxes, but they are also equal contributors with the public school counterparts to state and local funding of public schools. This, despite the fact that they receive no tax breaks and typically no direct benefit from public schools for their children in exchange. Furthermore, their children’s absence from public schools allows the funding per student to be greater due to lower public school enrollment numbers. Governmental leaders should recognize these great benefits and champion private education.