The coronavirus pandemic has delivered a devastating one-two punch to K-12 schools across the country, inflicting learning declines from loss of classroom time, compounded by fiscal distress stemming from the larger economic crisis that the virus has wrought. According to the latest research, students will begin the coming school year having lost a third of their normal learning gains in reading and half or more of their normal gains in math. The losses for lower-income children of color are sure to be even greater, widening the nation’s existing achievement gap.
But there’s an added wrinkle of complication: The financial needs that must be addressed by the federal government are present in both public and private schools, and to help one and not the other ultimately will hurt both. To deny private schools federal aid could lead to widespread private-school closures — triggering the transfer of displaced private-school students into already distressed public schools. In other words, public schools and private schools are in this together, whether they like it or not.
The Trump administration faces a real test of the commitment to private education that it claims to champion. And Democrats in the House and Senate face the challenge of setting aside their opposition to government funding of private and religious schools for this one-time emergency allotment, for the good of both public and private schools.
Ray Domanico is a senior fellow and director of education policy at the Manhattan Institute.
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