The $1.9 trillion pandemic relief law, passed by the Democrats in both houses with zero Republican support, includes close to $3 billion earmarked for private schools – quite a surprise from the pro-public school Democrats. In fact, according to the NY Times, it was teachers’ union’s leader Randi Weingarten, a champion of public education, who supported Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in acknowledging that the federal government was obligated to help all schools recover from the pandemic (Schumer and a Teachers’ Union Leader Secure Billions for Private Schools).
Weingarten, a graduate of Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law, told the Times that “the nonwealthy kids that are in parochial schools, their families don’t have means, and they’ve gone through Covid in the same way public school kids have,” adding, “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.”
According to the Times, Schumer was lobbied by the Orthodox Jewish community in New York City, which upset other Democrats, mostly public school advocates, who fought the Trump administration’s efforts to use the last two Covid-19 relief bills to help private schools.
Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy at the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, said the resistance of House Democrats to helping sectarian schools during the pandemic crisis was the reason his group approached Sen. Schumer, who is up for reelection in 2022. Diament pointed out that the 10% of American students who attend private and religious schools have suffered as much as the 90% who attend public schools, which is why, he said, “We’re very appreciative of what Senator Schumer did.”
The largest teachers’ union, the National Education Association, an ally of President Biden, launched an aggressive campaign to remove the funds for yeshivas and other private schools, blasting lawmakers with a letter saying, “We would be remiss if we did not convey our strong disappointment in the Senate’s inclusion of a Betsy DeVos-era $2.75 billion for private schools — despite multiple avenues and funding previously made available to private schools.”
In 2020, Weingarten led the charge against Education Secretary DeVos’s plan to compel public school districts to share more of their federal relief funds with neighboring private schools. But this time around, Weingarten was a key supporter of Schumer’s rescue plan for Parochial schools, and apparently reassured the majority leader that not only was she not going to fight this provision, but she thought it was the right thing to do.