Heavens to Betsy!
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is taking heat for insisting that private and parochial schools and the families that pay tuition to send their children to them not be left out in the cold when it comes to coronavirus emergency relief funding.
Limiting coronavirus relief funding to only traditional public schools and the students who attend them – as anti-school-choice edu-crats want to do – could, considering COVID-19, cause lots of private schools to close their doors, further limiting options available to parents.
Such unfairness doesn’t concern the anti-school-choice crowd at all, even if it interrupts the schooling of tens of thousands of children.
However, when Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear swiftly shut down the commonwealth, private and parochial schools weren’t exempt.
Their doors were slammed shut just as hard and fast as public schools.
Still, those who oppose temporary relief funding for children enrolled in private schools to continue their education in an environment that works best for them would deny those students simply because they aren’t being publicly educated.
It fits with the school-choice opponents’ ongoing attempts since long before COVID-19 to fence all tax dollars in the traditional education system.
Rabid critics of policies allowing more educational choices could care less that parents place their children in private or parochial schools because they better fit their needs, or that they still pay for public schools even though they don’t use them.
Opponents attempt to justify financial segregation of nonpublic students by painting an incomplete picture of private education as primarily offered by elite schools with high tuition and small classes on leafy campuses attended solely by upper-crust families who can weather the storm without assistance.
Yet according to Private School Review, the average tuition at Kentucky’s nonpublic schools is only $6,915, and Bellwether Education reports that Catholic schools covering kindergarten through eighth grade charged an average of $4,841 during the 2017-18 school year.
Those figures are significantly less than the $14,535 received, on average, by Kentucky public schools for each of their students.
These large public-private funding gaps are likely to increase even more because many private schools rely on donations and even church-offering collections – both plunging because of the economic uncertainty created by COVID-19 – to fill financial gaps.
Such donated support often makes it possible for low-income and working-class families to obtain a better education for their children than ones offered by the public school to which they would be assigned by the traditional system.
A letter by the American Federation for Children and signed by a coalition of groups supporting making some pandemic relief funding available to private schools noted that nearly one-third – or 1.7 million – of the 5.7 million students attending private elementary and secondary schools are from families making less than $75,000 “now facing additional economy uncertainty and potential instability in their children’s education.”
Considering nearly 75,000 students are in Kentucky’s certified nonpublic schools, leaving one-third of them out of any educational financial aid during COVID-19 would affect around 24,000 children and their families.
DeVos’ commitment to helping private schools remain open would actually help alleviate the financial strain on the public system that a sudden influx of 24,000 additional students would have, especially considering COVID-19’s space-gobbling social-distancing requirements.
Given Kentucky’s current funding level of $14,535 per pupil, suddenly adding 24,000 extra students would require over $348 million in additional public school funding while likely overloading school buildings and busing capacity.
While policy reforms like more alternatives and flexibility for parents must be the ultimate goal, temporary relief to maintain private schools of choice is a good investment.
Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at email@example.com and @bipps on Twitter.
The Bluegrass Beacon is a weekly syndicated newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute’s website after being published by newspapers statewide.