Good luck to Democrats slamming this policy measure in an election year.
The coronavirus shutdowns – which began with, and were most persistently and superfluously cruel in Democratic-controlled states and local governments – have had a disproportionate economic impact on low-wage and minority populations. Going into the coronavirus panic, these populations had seen their lowest unemployment numbers in recorded history and were seeing solid wage gains for the first time since the 1990s. Things were definitely looking up. Democratic lawmakers have been absolutely hell-bent on destroying the Trump jobs machine this year, and largely succeeded by making people in dense, urban areas miserable. I’m not sure how they think that makes them look good, but that’s their strategy anyway.
Because every day is a toddler game of opposite day with Democrats – i.e. anything Trump supports, they are immediately against, no matter how insane that position might be – Democrats now support keeping schools closed indefinitely. That will make it nearly impossible for many parents to return to work, and continue to have a devastating impact on single mothers.
So what’s Trump’s new idea? Public schools should re-open, but many are refusing. So give parents up to $10,000 per child from federal education funding to secure a safe and effective education option for their kids. Remove teachers unions from the equation altogether and empower parents to decide what is best for their children, now and going forward.
In a normal year, this policy would be a godsend to poor and minority families that are stuck in under-performing urban (and rural) schools – where the teachers unions are currently arguing that schools should remain closed until police departments are abolished and Medicare for All is passed, because that’s 2020 for you. But this year, school choice is even more urgent.
I have been convinced for a long time that Trump has at least 30% of the Black vote now, probably more, which would make it mathematically impossible for Democrats to win a national election (hence Pelosi’s sudden, intense interest in mail-in ballots). But between urban areas downsizing police departments (which, again, disproportionately impacts people in poor neighborhoods – gangs and drug dealers aren’t roaming around gated communities) and Democrats fighting against school choice (especially a measure of this magnitude), Trump might start a bona fide Blexit. Never forget the images of all those Black mothers who followed Elizabeth Warren from campaign stop to campaign stop during the primary to protest her cheering on the demise of charter schools. School choice is the new HBCUs. Trump groks that, but Democrats are too wed to teachers unions to evolve.
Make no mistake, this is an existential fight for the largest generation of retired school teachers and those who are in the Jimmy Buffett-themed retirement community pipeline. Their pensions are already grossly underfunded. School choice would completely upend the finances of public schools. Their private interest and the public interest of how best to educate children have been pitted against each other for a while now, as the pension behemoth crowds out classroom spending as a political priority.
Trump has become teachers unions’ worst nightmare, and he could not ask for a better enemy heading into November. Their performative martyrdom is no match for a $10,000 check.
Democrats, including Joe Biden, have offered few alternatives, especially with coronavirus cases recently spiking in many states. They have stood in solidarity with teacher unions in preventing schools from opening in the fall, calling that strategy the only sure-fire way to prevent the spread of virus among children, who could then bring it home to their parents and grandparents.
Not surprisingly, President Trump and many Republicans see things differently. While Trump has threatened to cut federal funding for school districts that remain closed this fall, any executive action to do so would likely get snarled in court for months, with little impact on students’ ability to resume in-person education.
Late last week, however, Trump started getting creative. Drawing on his history of supporting school-choice initiatives, he announced an ambitious new effort to give parents billions in federal funds – as much as $10,000 per child — and allow them to pick the emergency-education method that would best fit their child’s and families’ needs.
“If the schools do not reopen, the funding should go to parents to send their children to [the] public, private, charter, religious or home school of their choice,” Trump told reporters Thursday during a press briefing. “The key word being ‘choice.’ If the school is closed, the money should follow the student so the parents and families are in control of their own decisions.”
In its push to reopen schools, the administration for weeks has focused on the dark side of keeping children sheltered in their houses. Citing more than just the loss of learning opportunities, the American Academy of Pediatrics has argued that social isolation has detrimental effects, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits, as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation.
Trump would like to provide $105 billion to help schools reopen, with most going toward meeting CDC guidelines for social distancing. Ten percent of that money would be set aside for parents to pay for private school, charter school or home-schooling options, including hiring a teacher for their children or other children in their neighborhood.
Some teacher unions admit that distance learning is negatively impacting the most vulnerable students, including minorities in low-income areas and those with learning disabilities. Still, most adamantly oppose opening of schools. The president’s broadly outlined emergency school choice plan drew a sharp rebuke from the American Federation of Teachers, which accused Trump of “sowing seeds of chaos and confusion so he can fulfill his and [Education Secretary] Betsy DeVos’ dream of privatizing and voucherizing public education.”
The National Education Association, the largest union in the country, meanwhile, accused Trump of working to “steal scarce money from public schools when they need it the most.”
A senior administration official countered by calling that argument “the height of dishonesty.”
Out of the $105 billion the administration is requesting in the next emergency coronavirus spending bill, $70 billion would be dedicated to supporting K-12 with approximately $35 billion of that sum reserved for schools that reopen. That $70 billion is just emergency relief money alone – and comes in addition to the Department of Education’s annual budget of $70 billion, the official told RealClearPolitics.
Opponents’ rapid-fire condemnation of the idea, the official argued, is because the plan gives parents more flexibility and resources than they’ve ever had in making education decisions for their children.
“If the unions are scared of something, it’s that parents will get a taste of education choice and never want to go back,” the official said, adding that the extra $105 billion the administration wants to provide in education funds would be the biggest one-time federal investment in education in the country’s history.
“It’s telling that unions are so unconvinced that families will be happy with the product they’re providing,” the official added.
The fact that the policy could directly impact millions of frustrated families in a positive way during the back-to-school season, just weeks before the November elections, also has Democrats on defense, those pushing the emergency choice program argue.
Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers has estimated that 5.6 million parents will be unable to go back to work if schools don’t reopen in the fall.
So far, the administration is backing legislation introduced last week by GOP Sens. Lamar Alexander and Tim Scott. Along with 10% of the allocated $105 billion covering families’ private school/charter school/home-school costs, the bill would also create permanent tax credits of up to $5 billion annually for state-approved scholarship-granting organizations.
“Many schools are choosing not to reopen, and many schools are failing to provide high-quality distance learning. The students who will suffer from this experience the most are the children from lower-income families,” Alexander said in a statement announcing the School Choice Now Act. “This bill will give families more options for their children’s education at a time that school is more important than ever.”
Scott said the legislation would help “ensure that all children have access to the necessary resources and opportunities — education included — to live a successful life.”
DeVos last week praised the bill on Twitter and pressed lawmakers to include it in the new aid bill. An administration official said the measure abides by the conservative federalism principle by leaving the education choice funds up to the states to run and administer.
With unions on high alert over the push, House Democrats will likely block it. If they do, the Trump campaign will undoubtedly remind voters repeatedly that Biden and Democrats are denying families and children nearly $10,000 in in tax credits to help their children fill education gaps after the coronavirus has upended the school plans for millions of students.