“Private schools have been impacted by COVID-19 at the same rate as public schools have, and in some cases more heavily,” Ross Izard, national director of public policy with the private school scholarship fundraiser and school choice advocate ACE Scholarships, told CNA July 10.
“These schools are hurting. They’re in need of help. They’re in need of aid,” said Izard. His Colorado-based ACE Scholarships works to provide partial tuition scholarships to K-12 private schools for low-income families. It also advocates for school choice. The organization is active in eight states and served 7,000 children in 800 schools in 2019.
The interim rule’s goal, according to Izard, is equity, the need to ensure “the same treatment for private school students as public school students.”
ACE Scholarships has asked its supporters, its families, partner schools and partner advocacy groups to circulate a letter and submit comment to the federal government in support of private school support.
“COVID-19 has devastated all sectors of education, and private schools have not been spared,” the letter says. “These schools, many of which are small and lack the resources of larger school districts, are struggling to safely and effectively serve their families as a result of the pandemic.”
“For many private schools, CARES Act equitable services will provide the emergency assistance needed to ensure that students can return this fall for a safe, successful school year. These schools should be entitled to a full, fair share of CARES aid in accordance with the law and previous U.S. Department of Education Guidance.”
The rule is open for a 30-day comment period, ending July 31. Izard said that people “have an opportunity to make their voices heard.”
“We are anticipating that the folks who are opposed to private schools generally, or to school choice, are going to participate at a very high level in that public comment campaign,” he said. “We want to make sure the U.S. Department of Education is hearing from the schools and the families in the private sector about how important that aid is to them.”
The Department of Education rule was previously non-binding guidance. Since funds are distributed through state and local education agencies, education officials in several states had ruled that private schools would receive fewer funds than many schools deemed sufficient.
In early June, before the new federal rule was announced, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference asked the U.S. Department of Education to reverse state decisions that gave insufficient coronavirus relief funds to Catholic and other private schools
Before the guidance became a mandatory rule, the Colorado Catholic Conference had circulated an action alert objecting to Colorado officials’ decisions. Education officials had disregarded federal guidance in a way that withheld relief funds for Catholic schools, the conference said.
“Without a fair share of relief funding for our Catholic schools, our already financially stretched Catholic schools will be faced with an additional hardship in trying to absorb the expenses needed to ensure schools can reopen safely and continue to provide a quality education to students in the midst of a pandemic,” said the action alert.
Brittany Vessely, executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, explained the motivation behind continued advocacy for relief aid to Catholic schools.
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“We’re talking about being treated equitably and fairly based upon a pandemic that has impacted everybody,” she told CNA. “We want to make sure that relief funding gets to our schools and to our students.”
“All families have been impacted by the coronavirus, we are all in this together,” she said. Any state or local education agency that tries to block funding to non-public schools, she said, is being “discriminatory” against families that have chosen these schools as “the best education option for their child.”
Relief funds in the large east Denver suburb of Aurora, Colorado are distributed through the Aurora School District, one of the largest districts in the state. But the school district decided to postpone a decision until December.
In Aurora, the postponement meant a loss of “significant funding” Catholic schools were expecting, said Moo, who worried other districts in the state might delay the provision of resources.
“Now we’re scrambling to figure out how to pay for certain things that are needed from the first day of school, when students are back,” said Moo, adding that the Catholic archdiocesan schools are considering how to fund raise for some of the costs.
Corey Christiansen, public information officer for Aurora Public Schools, told CNA that the Colorado Department of Education has set December as the deadline for the allocation of these funds.