(The Center Square) – As states and local governments grapple over reopening schools in the fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, introduced a bill to ensure that federal education money follows students regardless of where they are educated.
Paul introduced the Support Children Having Open Opportunities for Learning (SCHOOL) Act on Wednesday, which would be applicable to students in grades K-12.
“As the impact of the ongoing pandemic and the government response efforts continue to place parents in situations requiring greater flexibility in balancing working and providing for their families’ critical needs, especially when educating their children at home, my SCHOOL Act grants them that flexibility by empowering them to use their own tax dollars to find the option that best fits their family’s needs and allowing them to reclaim a bit of stability in uncertain times,” Sen. Paul said.
On Tuesday, president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, announced that the union would pursue various tactics to prevent public schools from reopening in the fall, including filing lawsuits and organizing strikes.
Last month, one of the largest teachers unions in California said it opposed reopening schools until their demands were met.
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy Devos said she was “very seriously” considering withholding federal funding from schools that don’t reopen in the fall.
"Kids have got to continue learning, and schools have got to open up," she told Fox News last month. "There's got to be a concerted effort to address the needs of all kids, and adults who are fear mongering and making excuses simply have to stop doing it and turn their attention to what is right for students and for their families."
Federal education dollars are currently sent to states, which administer the funds to public school districts. Sen. Paul’s legislation would allow DOE funds to go directly to the parents of K-12 students, who could choose to use the funds for public school private school education and homeschooling. Funding can be used towards tuition, the purchase of curriculum materials or technological devices, special education needs and classes outside of the home.
“As families face the reality of hybrid learning or a completely virtual school year, students, especially those with disabilities, need a choice in education and the tools to succeed no matter where they are learning,” Sen. Paul said in a statement.
The bill amends two acts: the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. It allows certain funds authorized by these laws to follow a child’s education. Each child would receive the same amount of funding, regardless of where or how a child is educated.
Corey DeAngelis, director of school choice at the Reason Foundation, argues that tax dollars should fund students not systems. DeAngelis, who has been chronicling the schools that have stated whether or not they are reopening, their restrictions, and whether or not they are introducing new curriculum, argues that if a child’s school doesn’t reopen, parents should be able to take their education dollars elsewhere.
But even if schools do reopen, the principle remains the same: parents “should be able to take their education dollars elsewhere,” he argues. “The money is for educating the child. It should follow them to wherever they receive an education.”
A recent RealClear Opinion Research poll found that a strong majority surveyed support school choice and 40 percent are more likely to pursue homeschooling opportunities after COVID-19 restrictions end.
Slightly more than 40 percent polled said they are more likely to home school or virtual school after lockdowns. Before the coronavirus shutdown, roughly 4 percent of K-12 students were in home education settings.
Meanwhile, teachers reacted strongly on social media outlets to comments Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, made about schools reopening.
"As you try to get back to school, we're going to be learning about that," he said. "In many respects, unfortunately, though this may sound a little scary and harsh—I don't mean it to be that way—is that you're going to actually be part of the experiment of the learning curve of what we need to know. Remember, early on when we shut down the country as it were, the schools were shut down, so we don't know the full impact, we don't have the total database of knowing what there is to expect."