Bill that diverts hundreds of millions in COVID-19 relief funding to private school program is the wrong move for PA

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Bill that diverts hundreds of millions in COVID-19 relief funding to private school program is the wrong move for PA

PA House Education Committee is scheduled to vote on HB 2696 Thursday

For further information contact:
Chris Lilienthal (717) 255-7134
David Broderic (717) 255-7169

HARRISBURG, PA (Sept. 30, 2020) – PSEA President Rich Askey spoke out against state legislation that would divert hundreds of millions of Pennsylvania’s federal CARES Act money to unaccountable private schools and private educational services.

HB 2696 also may run afoul of federal requirements stating that CARES Act funding must directly relate to COVID-19 expenses. The Pennsylvania House Education Committee plans to vote on the bill Thursday.

“A costly private and religious school program is the last thing Pennsylvania should be using COVID-19 relief money to fund,” Askey said. “CARES Act funding is specifically intended to address expenses related to the pandemic. This proposal is clearly a strategy to gain a foothold for future efforts to advance a pro-voucher agenda.”

HB 2696 would commit up to $500 million of CARES Act funding to a proposed “Education Savings Account” program. Askey noted that money from these accounts may be used to pay certain costs at private and religious schools. This would seem to violate the CARES Act requirement that expenses directly relate to COVID-19 and are incurred in this calendar year.

Putting the legal questions aside, Askey said redirecting such a large amount of COVID-19 relief funds for private and religious schools is the wrong move, given the very real impacts this crisis is having on public schools. Spending any CARES Act funding for tuition, services, equipment, or computers at private schools would siphon money from public schools that desperately need those funds.

“The public school districts that educate 90 percent of our students are struggling to address a $1 billion local revenue shortfall driven by this pandemic,” Askey said. “We need to address this crisis rather than indulging in a Betsy DeVos-style fantasy that throwing money at private schools will solve everything.”

Askey also voiced concern about a lack of financial and academic accountability in the legislation. For instance, there would be no requirements to audit the Education Savings Account program.

“Public school entities have strict requirements for public meetings, transparency, governance, academic achievement, and financial accountability,” Askey said. “None of those requirements exist for the private companies receiving tax dollars from these Education Savings Account vouchers.”

PSEA joined 27 other education and advocacy organization to sign a letter to members of the House Education Committee opposing HB 2696. Read the letter here.

Askey is a Harrisburg music teacher and the president of PSEA. An affiliate of the National Education Association, PSEA represents about 180,000 active and retired educators and school employees, student teachers, higher education staff, and health care workers in Pennsylvania.