Trump releases funds for school choice ’emergency learning scholarships’

President Donald Trump continues to support school choice, especially since the coronavirus pandemic has led to many public schools canceling in-person learning in favor of less effective virtual classes.

Now putting federal money where his mouth is, President Trump just issued an executive order that provides states with the flexibility to use federal grants to help American families with tuition and other costs associated with private schooling, homeschooling, or other educational alternatives.

The thinking behind this executive action is that families, especially in minority or low-income areas, shouldn’t be forced to remain at the mercy of public schools that refuse to resume in-person learning for K-12 students.

“Emergency learning scholarships”

In an executive order that was posted on Monday, Trump laid out the negative consequences suffered by students who are being deprived of the opportunity for in-person learning and socialization when public schools remain closed.

Some of those consequences, which include increased risk of depression, abuse, malnutrition, and absenteeism, are “undeniably dire,” and can have both short- and long-term impacts on a child’s development, both socially and educationally. The order also notes that school closures are disproportionately impacting minority, low-income, and special needs children.

“I am committed to ensuring that all children of our great Nation have access to the educational resources they need to obtain a high-quality education and to improving students’ safety and well-being, including by empowering families with emergency learning scholarships,” Trump said.

Freedom to choose

Trump’s order authorizes the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to allow taxpayer funds disbursed through the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) program to be used for “emergency learning scholarships to disadvantaged families for use by any child without access to in-person learning.”

Funds from the CSBG program could be used for such things as “tuition and fees for a private or parochial school; homeschool, microschool, or learning-pod costs; special education and related services, including therapies; or tutoring or remedial education.”

In a separate press release from the White House accompanying the new executive order on school choice, Trump was quoted as saying, “All families should be empowered to make the decision that is right for their own circumstance.”

One way or another

Politico noted that the CSBG program usually distributes around $700 million annually in grants. It was bolstered with an additional $1 billion in the pandemic relief measure passed in March and got another $775 million for 2021 in the COVID relief bill passed by Congress last week.

Ironically, President Trump had previously attempted to do away with the CSBG program in prior budget proposals but was stopped by Congress. Now, with Congress having blocked the president’s requests for school choice legislation, he is using the program he once sought to get rid of to help further the school choice agenda.

Meanwhile, though Congress gave $13 billion extra to public schools this year to help them open up, roughly half of all public schools have failed to so, and though Congress also gave $2.75 billion to private schools, the funds were saddled with all sorts of restrictions that essentially made them useless. The Trump administration and Republicans first sought to have funds for emergency school choice scholarships included in the COVID relief measures, but the president ultimately was forced to take executive action after Democrats blocked the request for legislative aid.

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