Arizona families whose children are enrolled in school districts defying state law by requiring masks or temporarily shutting down due to COVID-19 outbreaks can take advantage of a new school voucher program from $ 10 million – a program funded with federal help from the newest coronavirus relief program.
“Our COVID-19 educational recovery benefit will allow parents to exercise their choice regarding their child’s education and COVID-19 mitigation strategies,” Republican Governor Doug Ducey said in announcing the program last week. “It will also give families in need the opportunity to access educational resources such as tutoring, child care, transportation and other needs.”
In doing so, Arizona becomes the first state to use federal aid from the American Rescue Plan to fund a controversial school-choice program – though likely not the last because the controversial debate over masks, vaccines, and School closures intensified between some Republican governors and the Biden administration.
In Arizona, the Republican-controlled legislature included language in its budget spending bill prohibiting school districts from mandating masks and vaccines or shutting down due to coronavirus outbreaks. School system principals in Phoenix, Flagstaff, Tucson and at least seven other districts are defying the law and demanding masks anyway – joining dozens of school districts from other Republican-controlled states that have put restrictions in place similar.
$ 10 million voucher program allows low-income families whose children are enrolled in school districts requiring masks or whose schools have reverted to virtual learning due to outbreaks to apply for up to 7,000 $ to cover private school tuition, online tutoring, transportation and child care. It was announced alongside a plan to also withhold federal relief funds from these school districts – creating a new $ 163 million school grant program with US bailout funding that is only available to schools adhering to state law.
Cartoons about the coronavirus
The Biden administration has pledged to support school districts financially penalized by their state to implement risk mitigation strategies they deem necessary to keep schools open. But Ducey’s announcement does a big job for Republicans.
The highly contagious delta variant, which is driving up infection, transmission and hospitalization rates across the country, has caught principals off guard and scuttled well-prepared back-to-school plans, especially in states and school districts where masks are optional and vaccination rates are low. Yet the vast majority of parents want their children to learn in person this school year, including those of children under 12, who are not yet eligible for vaccination, and those whose children are immunocompromised – despite the increase. pediatric infections.
The voucher program seeks to lure into the school’s camp of choice dedicated public school parents who, after a year and a half of virtual school, hybrid school, and unpredictable quarantines, need a additional support. He also plays an important role in energizing the GOP base by elevating the controversial debate over masks, vaccines and school closures – issues Republican leaders are addressing ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. .
“When schools are trying to dictate and mandate and it doesn’t work for a family, give parents other options to choose from,” DeVos told Fox News earlier this month. “If that doesn’t work for your child, you should be able to take your child to another school that will work for him.”
Later this month, DeVos will headline a school choice summit in New Hampshire alongside former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth, a influential and cash-rich conservative group with the intention of focusing on the hot button K -12 cultural war issues as the midterm elections approach, including school choice and mask terms and vaccine.
“School choice will be a major issue on the ballot in 2022 and beyond, and Democrats will either start to listen to parents or lose more elections,” said McIntosh, a former member of the Indiana Congress. “Parents deserve to have a say in how their education tax money is spent, and the combination of mismanagement of the pandemic and attempts to impose ultra-leftist policies in the classroom has led more and more parents and elected officials to question the status quo. “
Some parent surveys reinforce their strategy: when asked in June if they supported the right to use taxpayer money spent on their child’s education to send their child to a public or private school, 80% of parents who send their children to public schools said they support this right, up from 67% when asked the same question in April 2020, according to a RealClear Opinion Research poll.
At the same time, about 6 in 10 Americans say that students and teachers eligible for COVID-19 vaccines should be required to receive it, according to a new poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research released on Monday.
School choice programs such as tax credit vouchers and scholarships have proven popular amid the ongoing pandemic: Since the start of 2021, 18 states have adopted new school choice programs or expanded 21 existing ones. , according to EdChoice, creating vouchers, scholarships and tax credits available to at least 4.5 million new students. Maximum participation in new and expanded offerings would mean that the number of students participating in a program of private school choice could almost quadruple – although the pool of students operating such programs would still represent only 4% of K- students. 12 of the country.
“As part of their portfolio of school recovery activities, state and local governments should consider establishing educational restoration benefits to provide direct financial assistance to low-income families,” says John Bailey, researcher principal at the American Enterprise Institute in a new report on how states and districts can tap into the various funding streams included in the US bailout.
Arizona is the only state so far to use federal aid from the US bailout in this way – although New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Tennessee have used previous rounds of federal aid against coronavirus to strengthen similar school choice programs.
Earlier this month, the Florida Board of Education voted unanimously to allow parents to enroll their children in a private or charter school to avoid mask warrants and other COVID-19 restrictions. Funding would come from the state’s Hope Scholarship – not federal aid. Meanwhile, in Tennessee, the president of the Republican House is threatening to provide school vouchers to families in school districts in need of masks.
“The federal government has used direct financial assistance extensively throughout the pandemic to provide income support, rent assistance and food assistance to families,” Bailey said. “It exhibits the benefits of speed and flexibility to meet the immediate needs of individuals and families to overcome the disruption created by COVID-19. “