Trump orders community funds to be used for private school vouchers

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The Community Services Block Grant program was intended to assist low-income communities. Trump wants those funds used for private learning instead.

The $908 billion pandemic relief compromise that Donald Trump signed on Sunday did not include the administration's demand for private school funding.

On Monday, Trump said he would provide it anyway.

Trump announced via press release that he had signed an executive order directing Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to "allow funds available through the Community Services Block Grant program to be used by grantees and eligible entities to provide emergency learning scholarships to disadvantaged families for use by any child without access to in-person learning." He specified that this could go to pay for tuition for private and parochial schools, homeschooling costs, or other private educational expenses.

The $700 million annual program was intended by Congress to reduce poverty and revitalize low-income communities by providing direct grants to low income individuals and families — not to send federal funds to private and religious schools.

The order came one day after Trump grudgingly signed bipartisan relief legislation, which he had earlier called a "disgrace."

With the backing of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) had inserted language into an earlier Senate Republican "skinny" relief bill that would have provided funds for "Emergency Education Freedom Grants" for the next two years. Had that version become law, it would have established a tax credit to reimburse individuals for donations to state-level scholarship funds that pay for educational expenses, such as private school or parochial school tuition — a backdoor route to private school vouchers.

Cruz's language was left out of the compromise bill.

Last year, Trump who as a candidate had railed against Barack Obama's use of "unconstitutional" executive orders to circumvent the legislative branch, used the same approach after he failed to convince Congress to fund his massive southern border wall — the one he had repeatedly promised would be fully paid for by Mexico.

Trump forced the longest partial government shutdown in the nation's history in late 2018 and early 2019 to try to get billions appropriated for wall construction. When his tactic failed, he declared that there was a "national emergency" and unilaterally siphoned billions of dollars intended for military families.

Monday's order is likely the final salvo in the Trump administration's four-year war on public education. His Department of Education has spent that time attacking public schools and teachers, scheming to use taxpayer dollars to fund private and religious education, and rolling back protections for immigrants, sexual assault victims, LGBTQ kids, and Americans with student loan debt.

President-elect Joe Biden announced last week that he will replace DeVos with Miguel Cardona, a former public school teacher and Connecticut's current education commissioner.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.