Republican Senators Seek School-Choice Concessions in GOP Relief Bill

September 8, 2020 Updated: September 8, 2020

Several GOP senators have called for the newly floated Republican CCP virus relief bill to include provisions that would give parents more freedom to choose how their children are educated and help families homeschooling amid pandemic-driven school closures, according to reports.

The draft bill, released by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday, will provide $300 per week in federal unemployment benefits until the end of 2020, down from the recently expired $600-per-week that was provided under the CARES Act. It also posits $105 billion to help colleges and schools resume in-person instruction, more money for small business relief loans, and funds for child care to help struggling parents resume work amid the pandemic.

McConnell said in a statement announcing the bill that it would also give “all kinds of families more choice and flexibility to navigate education and childcare during this crisis.”

After McConnell called for a floor vote on the draft GOP bill, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) wrote in a tweet: “I hope any new Republican COVID bill will include help for working families having to homeschool for the first time—with so many schools closed or online and kids at home, working families need the support.”

Hawley has called for a fully refundable tax credit for homeschooling expenses, including for books and supplies, according to The Hill.

McConnell’s new slimmed-down bill, reported to be worth around $500 billion, also contains two years of tax credits for contributions to scholarship-granting institutions, according to The Associated Press. These provisions, based on legislation introduced in 2019 by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called the Education Freedom Scholarship and Opportunity Act, as well as on the School Choice Now Act introduced by Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) in July of this year, would help subsidize private school tuition, giving parents more choice in how their children are schooled.

Tampa-Area Chidren Return To Classrooms On First Day Of School
High school students in line to have temperature checked before entering the building in Tampa, Fla., on Aug. 31, 2020. (Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

“As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, more than 76 million American students had to finish their school year from home earlier this year. Many students will have modified schooling in the fall,” Cruz said in a statement. “The School Choice Now Act includes provisions of my Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act, giving public school, private school, and homeschool families the resources they need to ensure their students have access to a quality education in these uncertain times, and ushering in a new era of choice and opportunity in education.”

Helping subsidize private school tuition is also something that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has called for as part of her objective to give parents more say in their children’s education. In a 2019 interview on American Thought Leaders, DeVos discussed the tax credit for scholarships, explaining that the funding would come through taxpayers voluntarily contributing to scholarship organizations, describing it as “simply a tax credit pool that individuals or companies could contribute to as part of their federal tax bill for the year.”

“Republicans are making yet another overture,” McConnell said of the GOP measure. “Today we are releasing a targeted proposal that focuses on several of the most urgent aspects of this crisis. Issues where bipartisanship should be especially possible.”

Democrats have already said the bill won’t pass the House, however. Talks between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and the White House stalled in August, with no substantive concessions made on either side.

“Senate Republicans appear dead-set on another bill which doesn’t come close to addressing the problems and is headed nowhere. If anyone doubts McConnell’s true intent is anything but political, just look at the bill. This proposal is laden with poison pills Republicans know Democrats would never support,” Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement on Tuesday.

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