US President Donald Trump. Photo: Getty Images
US President Donald Trump. Photo: Getty Images

The details of the executive order

Following the order, states would be able to use Community Services Block Grant funds to issue “emergency learning scholarships” to “disadvantaged” families. The funds could also be used for participating in microschools and pods, as well as therapy services for students with special needs, according to The74million, the non-profit websit covering US’education.

“The prolonged deprivation of in-person learning opportunities has produced undeniably dire consequences for the children of this country,” the order said, noting that more than 50 percent of all public-school students in the U.S. began school remotely this fall.

The block grant, funded at $775 million for fiscal year 2021, is used for a wide swath of anti-poverty programs in low-income communities, ranging from employment, nutrition, housing, and health care. Education is an allowable use for the funds. Trump, however, actually recommended eliminating the block grant in his budget proposal earlier this year, as well as throughout his administration.

States are required to submit plans to HHS on how they plan to use their share of the Community Services Block Grant funding. The vast majority of the funding must be passed along to local community organizations, typically nonprofits, that provide a range of services, such as helping low-income people or vulnerable populations with employment, housing, education and food.

The executive order requires HHS to take actions that allow money in the program to be used by “eligible entities” to provide the “emergency learning scholarships to disadvantaged families.” Spokespeople for the White House and HHS declined to provide any additional details about how the executive order would be implemented.

The White House said that the order would give states new flexibility in how they use federal block grant programs that provide money for a wide range of community services designed to alleviate poverty and help low-income Americans. It will “provide certain disadvantaged children with emergency K-12 scholarships to access in-person learning opportunities,” Politico cited the administration as saying.

The move comes after the $900 billion coronavirus relief deal, H.R. 133 (116), that Trump signed on Sunday excluded many of the school choice provisions that his administration and GOP lawmakers had sought to include in that sweeping legislation.

REDIT: BRENDA IASEVOLI FOR EDSOURCE
CREDIT: BRENDA IASEVOLI FOR EDSOURCE

Reactions to the order divert federal funds to private school vouchers

HHS Secretary Alex Azar said that Trump’s executive orderwould “help children and families without access to in-person schooling to secure it with scholarships and other funding mechanisms for private options where public options are not available.” Politico interviewed.

“We know that in-person learning is essential to children’s flourishing, especially for vulnerable children, and that it can be done safely,” Azar said in a statement. “We can defeat this pandemic and support healthy futures for our children at the same time.”

“Donald J. Trump’s attack on public education continues,” said Charles Foster Johnson, executive director of the public education advocacy group Pastors for Children, Baptistnews quoted.

“Today he signed an executive order authorizing private school vouchers that divert your tax dollars away from your public schools to fund private and religious schools you do not own, have no authority over, and whose belief may violate yours, whether Catholic or Baptist or Muslim or Wiccan.

“Vouchers don’t help poor children,” he added. “They never cover the cost of private schools. Rather, they subsidize private education for the affluent. They transfer money from the poor to the rich. They constitute a massive socialistic redistribution of wealth from the have nots to the haves.”

“It’s super weird,” Sasha Pudelski, advocacy director at AASA, the School Superintendents Association, said about the executive order. “This will obviously not go into effect.”, according to The74million.

She said that Biden would be able to reverse the order once he takes office Jan. 20. Biden’s transition team did not respond to a request for comment.

Derek Black, a law professor at the University of South Carolina who has opposed attempts in his own state to use earlier relief bill funds for school vouchers, said, “this move is a day late and a dollar short — a day late because the students have been waiting on federal leadership on the issue of school reopening for over half a year and a dollar short because this random idea to use health and human services funds is very unlikely to move the dial for many families.”

But school choice advocates celebrated the announcement.

“This is big, welcome news,” said Leslie Hiner, vice president of legal affairs at EdChoice, an advocacy organization. “Microschools, private schools, and homeschool co-ops are excellent options. Kids need help now; they don’t have time to wait.”

What is School Vouchers?

Residents in each state—and communities within that state—pay income taxes, sales taxes, or both. Those funds become the revenue the state uses to pay for education, Edchoice shares.

Public resources have historically been diverted to private schools in myriad ways and vouchers is one of the options. Under a voucher program, the state distributes the money the state already allocates for an individual student’s public education to that student’s family. From there, they can use those funds to pay for private school tuition and fees. These programs typically do not include the federal and local tax dollars set aside for a child’s education—only state funds and often only a portion of those state funds.

A well-designed school choice program allows funding the state already allocates for an individual student’s K–12 education to follow that student to the schools and service providers that best meet their needs— whether that’s a public school, a school in another district, a charter school, a private school, online learning, learning at home or a customized learning experience.

K-12 schools benefit from the Congressional Covid Funding

K-12 education: Federal, state, and local governments fund K–12 public education in the United States. Under the Constitution, the state is responsible for public education.

Annual funding levels vary dramatically across the country, with an average range from $4,000 to $10,000 for students without disabilities and $10,000 to $20,000 for students with disabilities. The federal government contributes about 10% of the total budget for both groups, primarily in the form of categorical grants to state education agencies. Local taxes generate the bulk of school funding (40%–50%).

The heavy reliance on local property taxes causes significant funding differences within and across states. Some states have attempted to address the inequity by developing formulas that help equalize disparities and increase funding to disadvantaged areas.

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