Trump executive order allows grant-funded ’emergency learning scholarships’ to provide school choice to disadvantaged families

President Donald Trump has long advocated for more school choice options for students and his calls have only grown stronger during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns that closed in-person learning for many schools across the nation.

To address that problem, Trump issued an executive order that would allow for “emergency learning scholarships” for “disadvantaged families” that wanted their children to receive in-person learning but didn’t have that option with their local public school district, The Washington Times reported.

The scholarships would come via block grants distributed to the states by the Department of Health and Human Services and could be used by parents to cover the costs incurred by pursuing other educational options outside of their local public school system.

“Emergency learning scholarships”

In the executive order for “expanding educational opportunity through school choice,” the president laid out the consequences of closed schools and benefits of in-person learning and how, despite having received more than $13 billion to help safely reopen public schools, many schools still remain closed and force students to take part in the far less effective online virtual learning.

Trump pointed out that the consequences of closed schools and lack of in-person learning — some of which are profound and long-term — are particularly harsh for students from low-income and minority areas.

“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 wrote.

As such, the order authorized the HHS secretary to make available through Community Services Block Grants the funds “to provide emergency learning scholarships to disadvantaged families for use by any child without access to in-person learning.” Those scholarships 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 an accompanying statement and fact sheet, Trump said, “All families should be empowered to make the decision that is right for their own circumstance.”

DeVos supports emergency scholarships

Weighing in with support for the executive order was Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, long a proponent of greater school choice for American families, who similarly lamented in a tweet that “Too many students still lack access to much-needed in-person learning.”

“President Trump promised to put America’s forgotten students first, and today’s executive order highlights the need to empower families with the freedom and the funds to keep learning going,” DeVos said in a statement.

Likewise, HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement, “President Trump’s executive order will 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.

We know that in-person learning is essential to children’s flourishing, especially for vulnerable children, and that it can be done safely.”

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