While the most recent federal COVID relief package, dubbed, the American Rescue Plan has been mired in controversy about whether the government should be adding to the federal deficit, it did provide a silver lining: support for thousands of private schools and the millions of students from lower-income families who attend them.
Recent data shows that school closures and the move to online learning during the pandemic has resulted in students being left behind academically. Households where parents’ jobs make it impossible for them to teach their children at home or where poor internet connectivity makes attending virtual classes impossible are the hardest hit.
Fortunately, most private schools have remained open for in-person classes throughout the pandemic, providing middle and lower-income families a lifeline by helping their children avoid the severe learning loss students in other schools are experiencing.
But for these non-public schools, staying open hasn’t been easy. Private and non-public schools are excluded from most of the government funds that public schools can use to implement the government-mandated safety measures. Covering the costs of additional cleaning supplies and protective equipment has strained many private schools already-strained budgets. It has been an unfunded mandate that threatens the financial viability of these important schools.
Fortunately, the most recent relief package included the Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools Program. The program allocates $2.75 billion in education funding to help stabilize the non-public and parochial schools serving some of the country’s most vulnerable students in-person at a time when public schools refuse to open for in-person learning.
Great news indeed! But there’s a catch to the funding, and without immediate action, much of those funds may never reach the private schools they were intended for. Here’s why:
Private schools may not be aware that education funding is available or if they are eligible.
Any accredited non-public, nonprofit schools who have not received a Paycheck Protection Program loan are eligible to apply for education funding. This includes faith-based schools who meet the criteria above. However, it is the responsibility of State Educational Agencies and school superintendents to promptly notify eligible private schools of available funds, something they are legally required to do, but incentivized not to.
State Educational Agencies will benefit if the education funds are not spent.
After a short period of time, any funds allocated for private schools that remain unspent revert back to the state to be spent on other educational needs. While the often union-supported school superintendents might not deliberately delay notifying private schools, doing so can only benefit their own budgets and the interests of their allies. Typically non-public non-profit schools do not have the political clout or influence that other educational interests who could benefit from unspent funds do.
Private schools only have 6 months to spend educational funds.
As mentioned before, unspent funds revert to the state, and the timeline for private schools to spend awarded funds is short–only six months. Any delay in applying for the funds means schools may not be able to make full use of the funds before the September deadline and the remainder will go back to the state.
Here’s how Liberty Justice Center is helping.
Liberty Justice Center is contacting the statewide education officials in every state to remind them of their legal obligations and assure them of our commitment, up to and including litigation, to ensuring the money be spent on the children for whom it was intended. Click here to see a copy of the letter.
Here’s what private school parents and supporters can do to help.
Contact your local private school and make sure they’re aware of this funding opportunity as soon as possible! Feel free to send them the link to the program guidelines or a copy of our letter which outlines the state’s obligations. If an eligible private or parochial school has not been notified by the state/superintendent about the Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools Program or is experiencing excessive delays in having their application processed or funds disbursed, have them get in touch with us. We may be able to help!