School Choice Grants Would Help Struggling Families

School Choice Grants Would Help Struggling Families
(AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)
School Choice Grants Would Help Struggling Families
(AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)
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Millions of children are having their education disrupted by the coronavirus, and many school districts – comprising as much as 40% of schoolchildren in America -- are unlikely to fully open in the fall. This outcome is unfair to students and their parents who don't have other options and must try and fill the gaps left by the public school system. The federal government needs to provide choices for parents in this unprecedented situation.   

Preliminary research shows how devastating school closures are on educational achievement. The New York Times reported that "the average student could begin the next school year having lost as much as a third of the expected progress from the previous year in reading and half of the expected progress in math, according to a working paper from NWEA, a nonprofit organization, and scholars at Brown University and the University of Virginia."   

President Trump is fighting to give parents flexibility by proposing 10% of COVID-19 educational relief funding be designated for grants to private schools. Or send the money – as much as $10,000 per child -- directly to their parents so they can choose a school that is open and safe for their children. Currently, parents who want to send their children to private schools because of the pandemic have to pay for tuition fully. With the president’s new program or direct grants to parents, families would have more and better options available to them. Congress must pass a parental choice program so America’s children can obtain the best education possible.     

As Melania Trump said at a recent briefing about school reopening, “Many challenges for children and families can be just as invisible as the virus, and just as dangerous.  When children are out of school they are missing more than just time in the classroom.”   

The students who will be hurt the most if the public-school system struggles in the fall are those from low-income households. These families often don’t have the time or resources to supplement their children’s instruction.   

As education researchers wrote in the Scientific American: “With school closures, students of color or from low-income families are grappling with lack of internet access and smart devices making continuity of coursework and access to virtual after-school STEM programs a challenge. Without steady instruction over two semesters, children may lose a significant part of their annual gains in STEM competencies.”  

Instead of forcing low-income families into an inflexible, often failing system, the federal government should redirect the COVID relief funds to provide parents with alternative educational options. That is why President Trump advocates for spending these funds on private- and charter-school grants.     

The push to federally fund students’ private- and charter-school tuition using money from the second pandemic relief bill comes on the heels of the Supreme Court ruling in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue that it’s constitutional for religious schools to receive the same federal scholarship grants awarded to public school students. The ruling breathes new life into the Trump administration’s desire to see all children and parents succeed in the classroom, regardless of their ZIP code — a need made all the more pressing during our global coronavirus crisis.   

Students and parents more than ever deserve the flexibility to choose which educational environment works best for them. Every child is different, and the classroom situation that works for one student doesn’t always benefit another. It’s for this reason and others like it that most Americans support expanding parental choice in education. 

A Beck Research poll from January revealed a whopping 78% of voters support Education Freedom Scholarships, which receive a boost under the Trump administration proposal. The grant program Trump proposes would invite states to participate on the condition that -- for states that already have tax-credit scholarship programs -- they disburse within 30 days 50% of the grant money they receive. For those states that don’t have existing tax-credit scholarship programs, states would have 60 days to award the grant money in full to recipients.   

With back-to-school up in the air for many towns and cities and the drawbacks of remote learning becoming clear, it makes sense to give parents and guardians the decision to send their children to the school that will best serve a student’s gifts and talents.  

"We fundamentally believe that every family, especially lower-income families, should have the freedom to choose the best K-12 education for their child — and [an overwhelming majority] of Americans agree with us,” reads a statement from John Schilling, president of the American Federation for Children.  

The American Academy of Pediatrics argues it’s in the best interest of students to return to the classroom. “Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation,” reads the organization’s statement.   

Creating multiple options for parents and students is the best way forward and makes the otherwise nightmarish logistics of living during a pandemic more manageable. President Trump rightly says that “our country has got to get back, and it’s got to get back as soon as possible, and I don’t consider our country coming back if the schools are closed.” Providing parents with alternative educational options will help ensure this happens.     

David McIntosh is the president of Club for Growth. He led regulatory relief efforts during the administration of George H.W. Bush.  He is also a former congressman from Indiana and co-founder of the Federalist Society.

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