Now Is the Time to Advance School-Choice Policy
Senators Tim Scott (R., S.C.) and Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.) have teamed up to offer a bill that would redirect some coronavirus-relief funding to school-choice programs, so families could continue sending their children to the schools that are best for them even during the pandemic and recession.
The School Choice Now Act — which has the support of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos — would repurpose some of the emergency education-relief funding currently included in the CARES Act, which already provides aid to state education departments and local school districts. Under the bill, 10 percent of that funding would go to grants that states could use to fund scholarship organizations, which offer families “direct educational assistance” to cover private-school tuition or other educational expenses, such as the costs of homeschooling.
The proposal is an admirable effort to address a crisis that’s unfolding across the country in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, which has only exacerbated financial problems that private, often religious schools were already facing. According to the Cato Institute, more than 100 private schools have announced permanent closures as a result of the economic fallout from the virus.
As school-choice policy expert Michael McShane notes in Forbes, “those schools enrolled a total of 16,339 students, many of whom will be returning to public schools at an estimated cost to the public of more than $250 million,” even as public-school districts are taking an enormous financial hit from the virus.
But even as Republicans aim to help families access better educational options and relieve the stress on public schools, top Democrats are busy frustrating those efforts. For instance, in the recent set of policy recommendations rolled out in conjunction with Senator Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden calls for the total elimination of the Opportunity Scholarship Program in Washington, D.C. Just last week, DeVos announced that the Education Department is set to award the program a minimum of $85 million over the coming five years; under Biden’s administration, that program would disappear entirely.
School choice is a key policy area in which Republicans are much more in sync with the views of most Americans, including minorities, than are Democrats. According to a survey this spring from the American Federation for Children, most nonwhite families say they support school choice, including 67 percent of African Americans and 63 percent of Hispanics.
The same poll found that half of African Americans said they consider themselves more likely to homeschool after the lockdowns end, the highest percentage of any racial demographic aside from Asian Americans. Meanwhile, blacks and Hispanics are the most likely of any demographic to support a federal tax-credit scholarship program; close to three-quarters of each group says they’d back such a plan.
Republicans are smart to prioritize policies that would expand school choice during this time of crisis. For a host of reasons, the least of which is sheer political calculation, Democrats would be wise to help them.
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