This week as Congress continues to work on a COVID relief package, Congressman Dan Lipinski (IL-3) joined Congressmen Bradley Byrne (AL-1) and Mark Walker (NC-6) in introducing the School Choice Now Act which would ensure that the six million K-12 students who attend private schools would be included in the emergency aid. This bill is an updated companion to S. 4284 introduced in the Senate by Sens. Tim Scott (SC) and Lamar Alexander (TN).
"As a former teacher, I know how critical it is that students continue their education despite the pandemic," said Congressman Lipinski. "I was proud to support emergency federal funding for K-12 students earlier this year, but more is now needed. We must help all students, including the 6 million attending private schools, many of which are run by Catholic institutions in urban areas like Chicago and serve low-income and minority communities particularly hard hit by COVID. The School Choice Now Act is the best way to help these students, since funding would be provided to state-certified SGOs (scholarship granting organizations), which already exist in many states, including Illinois. By supporting SGOs, Congress can help families who are now facing the gut-wrenching task of having to take a child out of their school because they can no longer pay tuition. If we don't act now, not only will these children lose access to their schools, but public schools will face a massive influx of new students resulting in over-crowded schools, an increased burden on taxpayers, and greater hardships for already-struggling communities. And by creating a permanent federal tax credit, The School Choice Now Act will also help more Illinoisans make our state's scholarship program stronger, supporting a greater number of vulnerable students and families in our communities."
As the economic impacts of the pandemic continue to negatively impact families throughout the nation, families of vulnerable students are struggling to cover education expenses. In turn, schools around the country are permanently closing their doors. Already more than 110 schools, including over 60 Catholic institutions, have shuttered, forcing vulnerable students into unfamiliar educational settings in the middle of the pandemic. The number of closures is expected to significantly rise in the coming months.
The impact of new students entering public schools does not only impact the families of these students. Many of these children will enter already-overcrowded public schools struggling for resources. Taxpayers will also face an increased burden. According to one estimate, if 10% of children who attend private schools switch to public schools, taxpayers would need to pay an additional $6.7 billion annually at a time when state and local governments are already strapped for cash. Each of these school closures could also mean greater hardships for communities already struggling during the pandemic. In Lost Classroom, Lost Community, Notre Dame professors Margaret F. Brinig and Nicole Stelle Garnett found that the loss of Catholic schools in urban communities triggers disorder, crime, and an overall decline in community cohesiveness.
The School Choice Now Act would help address these challenges by supplementing funding for certified scholarship granting organizations (SGOs) and making use of the mechanisms already in place in many states like Illinois. SGOs are greatly oversubscribed, and many more low-income families are seeking relief from financial impacts wrought by this pandemic. By providing an infusion of emergency funding and encouraging additional contributions from private donors, this bill will give students and parents in need around the country the freedom to make educational decisions that are right for their children.
Key Provisions of the School Choice Act Now include:
One-time supplemental funding to scholarship-granting organizations in each state, to provide emergency assistance to students struggling to attend the school of their choice through scholarships;
Establishment of a permanent dollar-for-dollar federal tax credit for contributions to scholarship granting organizations, capped at $5 billion per year;
Creation of a centralized website to facilitate contributions and help families in need identify scholarship eligibility.