WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has dusted off a cause long embraced by the right — school vouchers — as a means to prod public schools to reopen after widespread closures due to the coronavirus.
And the Republican Senate has taken up the issue as parents find their children’s schools shuttered and many failing to thrive with distance learning.
If a school is closed, Trump said during a press briefing Thursday, “we’d like the money to go to the parents of the students” who then could use the money to enroll their children in the “public, private, charter religious, or home school of their choice.”
Democrats are fighting back at what they see as a move to undermine support for public schools.
During a Monday conference call with reporters, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos “has been on a mission along with this president to undermine public education.”
“He’s saying to schools, I’m going to take away your funding if you don’t open,” Perez added.
Last week, Republican Sens. Tim Scott of South Carolina and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee introduced the School Choice Now Act, which would include “emergency education freedom grants” to give parents more options as some schools remain shuttered. The measure also would create permanent tax credits of up to $5 billion annually.
Monday, Alexander announced that the GOP’s proposed $1 trillion Health Education Assistance Liability Protection and Schools, or HEALS, Act would include scholarships to prevent families from losing access to schools they had chosen before the pandemic and offer more opportunity for all families.
Even still, the conservative Club for Growth pushed its own preferred voucher program, an Emergency Parental Choice Scholarships proposal, that would give parents, regardless of income, as much as $10,000 per child to place their children at their school of choice or home-school a child.
“The proposal particularly resonates with parents, of course, who are struggling now with understanding what their schools are going to offer, and what will be happening for their kids,” Club for Growth President David McIntosh said. He added it would help with economic recovery by freeing working parents who cannot return to work if their children do not attend school.
It is impossible to imagine either bill passing the Democratic House. On Friday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi described herself as “a lioness,” who wants children to return to schools.
“You hurt our cubs, you’re dead. So just don’t take any risks with America’s children,” she said.