Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is using the coronavirus pandemic to try to shift public money to private schools—and especially to private religious schools. DeVos sent a letter to the Council of Chief State School Officers telling state education officials to divert the money, attacking them for their supposed “reflex to share as little as possible with students and teachers outside of their control.”
As Democratic congressional leaders put it, the DeVos guidance seeks to “repurpose hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars intended for public school students to provide services for private school students, in contravention of both the plain reading of the statute and the intent of Congress.”
The executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers echoed the point, saying DeVos’ plan “could significantly harm the vulnerable students who were intended to benefit the most from the critical federal Covid-19 education relief funds Congress has provided.”
Private school advocates are arguing that their students, too, are disadvantaged insofar as 30% of them are from families earning less than $75,000 a year.
The median household income in the United States in 2018 was $61,937. So what private schools are arguing is that their students need help because nearly one in three of them have a family income level below … a number that’s 20% higher than the median household income. The New York Times, by the way, reported that 30%-below-$75,000 figure without contextualizing it.
Private school lobbyists are also arguing that it would be difficult for public schools if private schools folded, causing an influx of students to public schools. But “I think it’s more proof that we need to be focused on public education, because if public education is not fully funded, there is no fall back,” said the National Coalition for Public Education’s Maggie Garrett.
DeVos is explicitly trying to help religious schools in particular, having promised New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan that she was “absolutely” trying to do what he described as “ensur[ing] that justice is finally done to our kids and the parents who choose to send them to faith-based schools.”
Justice is this: high quality, well-funded public education available to every child. Not starving public schools of funds and then using that as an excuse to divert more money to private schools.