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Opinion: Protect the education system for all students


On March 27, President Trump signed the CARES Act into law, which includes Educational Stabilization funds of more than $30 billion. According to the initial figures released by the Congressional Research Office, ­­ Missouri is eligible to receive nearly $479 million of those funds. Most of the money will be split between local school districts and institutes of higher education, meaning local school districts in Missouri can expect as much as $208 million for relief measures. Some permissible uses for the funds include professional development, summer learning programs, mental health services, and purchasing technology. A portion of these funds, roughly $54.6 million, can be spent at the discretion of the governor.

Some private schools, like other nonprofit organizations, were able to secure Small Business Administration loans from the CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program in order to keep staff on payroll, but it is likely that private schools will largely be left out of the funding specifically designed to support Missouri’s education system. Private schools should receive a small percentage of Title-I “equitable services” from the school districts, but the bulk of federal relief specifically designed to help schools deal with the new costs of distance education and ensure continued learning during this crisis will go solely to public schools, leaving behind close to 10 percent of Missouri school-aged children.

The result is that many private schools could be forced to close, which would be a catastrophic loss for participating lower- and middle-income families and could have long-lasting negative impacts on the public school system as well. At a time of such economic uncertainty, it’s important to understand the effect of private schools on state budgets: According to the National Council for Education Statistics, during the 2016-17 school year, Missouri spent just over $11,527 per year per student in K-12 public schools. With nearly 90,000 students enrolled in private schools in Missouri, the savings to taxpayers comes to over $1 billion annually.

Unlike public schools, private schools lack the guaranteed security to remain open. That’s not only a concern for the students and families who rely on and purposely chose
those schools, but the short- and long-term financial wellbeing of the state, including the per-pupil funding currently allocated to each child in public school.

Contrary to public perception, many private school families survive on a moderate to modest income. Many families work multiple jobs and make tremendous sacrifices to keep their kids in a school of their choice even in good times.

While PPP loans may help some private schools keep staff employed in the short term, the long-term financial impact on the private school sector could be devastating. To maintain affordability for families, most private schools in Missouri subsidize tuition, relying on direct donations, fundraisers, and Sunday collections. COVID-19 has rocked 401(k)s, 529s, and other investment accounts, events have been canceled, and churches have been closed, disrupting these funding sources. Add to this that many families cannot prioritize tuition when school doors remain shut. For schools where the majority of students receive significant financial aid, the consequences could be dire.

All parents, whether they send their children to public or private schools, have been forced to adjust to a life where children remain home during what used to be the school day. The one thing public-school parents do not need to worry about is whether their child’s school will survive this pandemic. Every child in Missouri deserves that same reassurance.

The nationwide, mandatory shutdown of all schools was unprecedented and unpredictable. Unlike public policy, the crisis does not discriminate between public or private school students and families. America’s reaction should not either.

In addition to public schools receiving the majority of the education-specific federal relief in the CARES Act, teachers’ unions and public-school administrators are now seeking an additional $200 billion. Any new federal funding as a result of the COVID-19 crisis should not discriminate against the children enrolled in private schools. This is a moral imperative, as well as a fiscal one. Future federal relief, and action by governors and state leaders, should protect every family to ensure all children can access a quality education.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For up-to-date information on coronavirus, check with the CDC and DHSS.