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Trump to seek funds for private, religious school scholarships in COVID recovery bill

Francesca Chambers, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in Religious News

WASHINGTON -- The White House plans to ask Congress to earmark money in the next stimulus bill for scholarship programs for private and religious schools, which the administration is promoting as a way to help families affected by COVID-19 pay their children's tuition this fall.

President Donald Trump will ask for a "one-time, emergency appropriation" for a new grant proposal, according to an outline of the plan obtained by McClatchy. The grants would be provided to states to distribute to nonprofit institutions that disburse scholarships to qualified students who want to attend nonpublic schools.

"I have never heard a single, compelling persuasive reason as to why somebody is against Education Freedom Scholarships, opportunity scholarships, school choice, charter schools. And the reason is this: We're trying to give these kids just another opportunity and provide their parents with another option," Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, told McClatchy.

The White House is seeking to have 10% of the amount that Congress approves for state and local educational agencies set aside for the grants. Trump will also seek approval of $5 billion in federal tax credits for businesses and individuals who donate to the scholarship programs.

The Trump administration has been promoting school choice initiatives for weeks as a way to provide educational opportunities to children in underserved communities and get money to help financially struggling private and Catholic schools before the new school year.

Those policies received a boost this week when the Supreme Court ruled that taxpayer-funded scholarships, like the ones that the Trump administration's proposal would fund, can be used at religious schools. The court ruled that any private school that meets the state's educational standards is eligible to receive the scholarship funds.

 

Eighteen states already have tax-credit scholarship programs, according to the school choice advocacy group EdChoice, including Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Kansas. Funds are awarded to students in those states by nonprofit Scholarship Granting Organizations.

Draft legislation that White House chief of staff Mark Meadows had ordered drawn up, according to the plan outline, would give every state the option of receiving federal funding for the scholarships if they choose to participate in the "Education Freedom Grant" program the Trump administration is proposing.

The proposal stipulates that states with existing tax-credit scholarship programs must give 50% of the grant funds to scholarship organizations within 30 days of receiving them. States that do not have established programs will have 60 days to distribute the money. States that have not distributed the money by March 30, 2021 will have their funding reallocated to states that do participate in the program.

Scholarship organizations will be allowed to spend up to 5% of the grants they receive to market the programs and pay for administrative expenses, the outline says.

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