Fair is Foul

According to the most recent data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, the 5.9 million students enrolled in America’s private schools account for 10.2 percent of the nation’s total K-12 enrollment. Remember that figure.

When, on March 11, President Joe Biden affixed his signature to the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, he set the wheels in motion to deliver an additional $123 billion in federal funding to the nation’s K-12 public schools. The law requires at least 90 percent of that amount, a figure totaling $110.7 million, to flow to local public school districts. Additionally, the new legislation provides the nation’s K-12 private schools with $2.75 billion in COVID-19 emergency relief funding.

Now let’s do the math. $2.75 billion equals 2.4 percent of the total amount of federal emergency relief assistance for K-12 education provided by the American Rescue Plan. (The actual percentage may be less.) So the private schools that educate 10.2 percent of the nation’s students will receive benefit from 2.4 percent of the most recent round of federal relief funding.

In California, private schools – which account for approximately 7 percent of the state’s total enrollment in grades K-12 – stand to benefit from 1.2 percent of the $15 billion available to aid the state’s public schools.

That’s fair, isn’t it? Apparently, not. At least not according to the National Education Association. In an 11th hour communication from NEA Director of Government Relations Marc Egan to U.S. Senators, the chief lobbyist for the nation’s largest teachers union wrote:

“While applauding that this bill provides much needed and greater resources for public schools and campuses than the previous Congress did, 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.”

Betsy DeVos era? Seriously? Is the NEA truly unaware that equitable services for private school students and educators have been baked into the substance of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act since it was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965…when Betsy DeVos was 7 years old? Does the union really not know that the Obama Administration made federal funding available to private schools impacted by wildfires and hurricanes?Previous funding? What about the $67 billion earmarked for public schools in the CARES Act, followed by an additional $54 billion appropriated in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021?

Those observations are almost beside the point, given that the funds appropriated to provide emergency relief to the nation’s nonprofit private schools were neither the NEA’s nor the public schools’ to begin with. To her great credit, the leader of the nation’s second largest teachers union, Randi Weingarten, recognized as much in voicing support for the inclusion of the additional $2.75 in the American Rescue Plan legislation. The American Federation of Teachers President is quoted in the New York Times as having said:

“The non-wealthy 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. All of our children need to survive, and need to recover post-Covid, and it would be a ‘shonda’ [Yiddish for ‘shame’] 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.”

One can only hope that in a nation possessing the fiscal wherewithal to muster nearly $2 trillion in emergency relief funding to help individuals, businesses, schools and other institutions surmount the multi-faceted hardships inflicted by a worldwide pandemic, the default position would be one of graciousness and inclusiveness. We are all in this together. No one and no group should point their finger at another and insist that “they should get nothing.”

I suppose we really do need to shore up our early education programs. Most preschools and child care centers do an admirable job of teaching toddlers and preschoolers how to share. The ability to share is not only prerequisite to the formation of healthy friendships, partnerships and families, it is indispensable to the successful pursuit of the common good in a free society. In taking the view that “it’s all mine,” the NEA has set a terrible example for the children its members educate. There’s no excuse for such selfishness.

Ron Reynolds

Note: The commentary and views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessary represent those of the California Association of Private School Organizations, or its members.

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