Kudos to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer for the inclusion of $2.75 billion for non-public schools in the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill. The funds are intended to help yeshivas, Catholic schools, and other non-public schools that were devastated by the pandemic to recover.
The funds are separate and apart from an earmark of approximately $125 billion for the recovery of public schools, which make up 90 percent of the nation’s schools.
The development is remarkable not only because the magnitude of the funding will enable the non-public sector to make serious efforts to come back to their pre-corona levels, but also in the way it came about.
According to the New York Times, Schumer was able to persuade House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Randi Weingarten, the head of one of the nation’s most powerful public school teachers unions – and also a staunch opponent of private school aid – to go along with the non-public school funding. In the end, Weingarten not only told Schumer she wouldn’t oppose his plan, but said it was the right thing to do.
The Times reports she even said this: “All of our children need to survive, and need to recover post-Covid, and it would be a ‘shonda’ if we didn’t actually provide the emotional support and nonreligious supports that all of our children need right now and in the aftermath of this emergency.”
She echoed Schumer who said that the funds “without taking any money away from public schools, will enable private schools, like yeshivas and more, to receive assistance and services that will cover Covid-related expenses they incur as they deliver quality education for their students.”
The Times also reports that Speaker Pelosi had initially only been willing to support an allocation of up to $200 million but ultimately went along, apparently after a deft parliamentary maneuver by Schumer.
The exquisite irony in all of this is that it came at a time when Democrats control all three branches of the federal government and have long been seen as champions of public education (at the expense of private education). Indeed, last year, Congressional Democrats had vociferously opposed the push by President Trump’s educational secretary, Betsy DeVos, to use pandemic relief bills to aid private schools.
Time will tell whether this wave toward educational equity – which is significant in and of itself – marks a new beginning in thinking about the needs of parochial school students. At all events, students who receive their secular education are entitled to no less from government than those receiving it in a public school setting. This is hardly preferential treatment.