Democrats have long professed to be staunch supporters of public education and against school choice, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., struck an 11th-hour deal to fund almost $3 billion for private schools, The New York Times reported Sunday.
The $2.75 billion for private schools came together from Schumer after aggressive Orthodox Jewish lobbying and rare support from American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, according to the Times.
Notably, though, Democrats excoriated Trump administration Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for fitting in funding for private schools in past stimulus bills last year, only to turn around and do the same thing with Biden's $1.9 trillion spending package signed by President Joe Biden on Thursday.
"We never anticipated Senate Democrats would proactively choose to push us down the slippery slope of funding private schools directly," lamented School Superintendents Association Advocacy Director Sasha Pudelski, in a letter to Congress. "The floodgates are open and now with bipartisan support, why would private schools not ask for more federal money?"
The machinations began behind a push from Orthodox Jewish lobbying in New York, and Catholic schools, according to Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America Director for Public Policy's Nathan J. Diament.
"It's still the case that 10% of America's students are in nonpublic schools, and they are just as impacted by the crisis as the other 90%, but we're getting a much lower percentage overall," Diament told the Times.
"We're very appreciative of what Sen. Schumer did."
Schumer's late deal in the Senate version gave about 12 times more to private schools than the $200 million capped in the original House bill, per the report.
"This fund, without taking any money away from public schools, will enable private schools, like yeshivas and more, to receive assistance and services that will cover COVID-related expenses they incur as they deliver quality education for their students," Schumer told Jewish Insider.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, fought for a provision for "nonpublic schools that enroll a significant percentage of low‐income students and are most impacted by the qualifying emergency."
"I'm proud of what the American Rescue Plan will deliver to our students and schools, and in this case specifically, I'm glad Democrats better targeted these resources toward students the pandemic has hurt the most," Murray wrote in a statement.
In the bill, there is $3 billion in funding for special education programming under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and $800 million for homeless students.
"Make no mistake, this bill provides generous funding for public schools," a Schumer spokesman told the Times. "But there are also many private schools which serve large percentages of low-income and disadvantaged students who also need relief from the COVID crisis."
The National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the U.S. protested the private school funding to the Biden White House, with which it remains a strong ally, sources told the Times.
"We would be remiss if we did not convey our strong disappointment in the Senate’s inclusion of a Betsy DeVos-era $2.75 billion for private schools — despite multiple avenues and funding previously made available to private schools," NEA director of government affairs wrote to lawmakers, despite praising the spending package overall.
Weingarten, after frequent protests of past DeVos-backed funding for private schools, was instrumental in swaying House Speaker Pelosi on the Schumer near 12-times funding bump for nonpublic schools, according to a Times source.
DeVos "funnels more money to private schools and undercuts the aid that goes to the students who need it most," Weingarten had argued in the past, per the Times.
"The nonwealthy kids that are in parochial schools, their families don't have means, and they've gone through COVID in the same way public school kids have," Weingarten told the Times.
"All of our children need to survive, and need to recover post-COVID, and 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 and in the aftermath of this emergency."
Shonda is a Yiddish word for shame.
"In emergency contexts, whether they're hurricanes, earthquakes, or global pandemics, those are situations where we need to all be in this together," Diament told the Times. "Those are exceptional situations, and that's how they should be treated."
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