July Advocate

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July Advocate

 On June 30, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that it was no longer prohibited for a state to bar private religious schools from participating in its voucher programs. “A state need not subsidize private education,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts for a five-judge majority in the case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. “But once a state decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

AASA submitted an amicus brief to the Court arguing that it was improper to require a state to fund private religious education and that voucher programs undermine public schools and the obligation of states to fund public schools. The 5-4 decision did not surprise us or many legal experts because by hearing the case at all, which many felt was weak, the Court seemingly tipped its hand that they were unhappy with the decision by the Montana Supreme Court and wished to overturn it.

State “no-aid” provisions which bar funding of religious education exist in 38 states, but 18 of these states already have voucher programs. Thus, while pointing out how the creation of voucher program conflicts with a state’s constitution or no-aid clause has been a helpful argument for public school advocates opposed to these programs, it has not stopped states from disregarding their no-aid provisions and enacting voucher programs.

What are the immediate effects of the SCOTUS decision then? Two states, Vermont and Maine, will have their “town-tuitioning programs” dating back from 1869 to 1873 respectively, (long before vouchers were invented) open to private religious schools. These programs have allowed students in rural parts of the state who did not have access to any public school to attend any other public or private secular school inside or outside the state. Unlike voucher programs that started in the 1950s in response to segregation, these programs are small and specific to very rural communities in those states. They are not “true” voucher programs in the mind of many school leaders, but voucher proponents are already pouncing on the opportunity to claim them as such and ensure parents in these states can opt to send their children to private religious schools on the state dime.

What else is next? According to the Institute for Justice, which represented Espinoza, they are looking to use this decision to push vouchers in Texas, Missouri, South Dakota and Idaho. They say these are the next big “battlegrounds” for vouchers and legislatures and should no longer feel bound by “no-aid” causes. However, a look at how these voucher fights have played out recently reveals that the winning arguments for public education have centered on opposition by rural Republicans that diverting state funding away from public schools will hurt rural students as well as concerns about academic achievement and accountability in voucher programs.

This decision raises the possibility that voucher proponents could start insisting that it would be religious discrimination if religious schools are not treated the same as other educational entities when it comes to state aid; They could try to argue that when new grant programs are created private religious schools should be eligible for the funding. Meanwhile, they will also want to be granted exemptions, so they don’t have to meet the same academic/curriculum, reporting and discrimination provisions as secular private schools or public schools.

Like other major education decisions, in recent years the Court has issued it can take time to understand the policy ramifications of a case. AASA and the coalition we lead, the National Coalition for Public Education, will remain vigilant in fighting voucher schemes at the federal level and provide our affiliates with the best arguments and research for successfully opposing these programs at the state level.

 

 

AASA Urges FEMA to Offer Additional Flexibilities Under the Public Assistance Program

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AASA Urges FEMA to Offer Additional Flexibilities Under the Public Assistance Program

On June 30, 2020, AASA, ASBO International, and others submitted a letter to FEMA urging the agency to offer additional flexibilities under the Public Assistance Category B program so that districts can be eligible to receive reimbursements for activities related to delivering meals, sanitizing school facilities, and providing premium pay for essential school staff.
 
For background, FEMA's Category B Protective Measures provision allows districts to be reimbursed for services taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the COVID-19 National Emergency Declaration, Category “B” funds are eligible to cover costs associated with the management, control, and reduction of immediate threats to public health and safety including for, but not limited to, emergency operation center costs; training specific to the declared event; disinfection of eligible public facilities; technical assistance; and control of immediate threats to public health and safety. The problem here is that the agency's current regulations prohibit FEMA from reimbursing school districts if expenses are associated with increased operating costs related to the pandemic. 
 
Due to this, AASA was happy to join this allied advocacy effort to expand the funding available to school districts for contending with the pandemic and re-opening facilities. You can access the letter by clicking here.
 

AASA Submits Amicus Brief to Halt District Title IX Regulation Implementation

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AASA Submits Amicus Brief to Halt District Title IX Regulation Implementation

Given the enormous burden the Title IX regulation poses for districts trying to re-open schools in the middle of the pandemic, AASA took the unusual step an amicus brief in two key State attorney generals cases that are requesting a preliminary injunction to stop the regulation from going into effect on August 14th.
 
The AASA amicus brief was drafted by John Borkowski of the law firm HuschBlackwell. Borkowski, a partner at HuschBlackwell and an attorney who has focused on assisting district leaders for over 30 years, did a superb job of highlighting the most egregious aspects of implementing this regulation from the K-12 perspective. You can read the brief here.

National Coalition for Public Education Denounces Ruling in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue Case

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National Coalition for Public Education Denounces Ruling in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue Case

AASA, which co-chairs the National Coalition for Public Education, released this statement in response to the 5-4 decision issued by the Supreme Court in the case Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. 
 
National Coalition for Public Education Denounces Ruling in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue Case 
 
The U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue guts provisions that exist in the three-quarters of state constitutions that protect taxpayers from being forced to pay for private, religious education.
 
This damaging decision delivers a serious blow to public education. During the Trump Administration private school voucher advocates like Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have been unable to push an unpopular federal voucher program through Congress, even when there were Republican majorities in both chambers. But now the Supreme Court has opened the door for voucher proponents in states to aggressively pursue the diversion of taxpayer dollars to private schools—schools that can pick and choose who they educate and are not accountable to taxpayers. Now more than ever, as our country tries to rectify our history of racial injustice, we need to invest in our public schools that welcome all children and unite our communities, not in private schools that further divide us.
 
Public schools are a cornerstone of our communities, and bring together all students regardless of economic status, disability, religion, or any other factor. Our nation cannot afford to waste taxpayer money on a privately run education system, particularly one that fails to improve academic achievement, when we are underfunding the public school system that educates 90% of American children. Public money should fund public schools.
 
This ruling should galvanize families, educators, taxpayers – everyone who values the fundamental role public schools play in our society – to push back against the privatization of the public education system.
 
Founded in 1978, the National Coalition for Public Education supports public schools and opposes the funneling of public money to private and religious schools through vouchers, tuition tax credits, education savings accounts, and portability.