Trump signs executive order expanding school choice for in-person classes due to pandemic

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President Trump signed an executive order Monday aimed at expanding school choice options during the COVID-19 pandemic by providing “emergency learning scholarships” for any child without access to in-person learning.

The money will be offered through block grants under the Health and Human Services Department to cover tuition and fees for private or parochial schools; home schooling and “microschools;” learning-pod costs; special education and related services, including therapies; or tutoring or remedial education.

“Unfortunately, more than 50 percent of all public-school students in the United States began school remotely this fall,” Mr. Trump said in his order. “These children, including those with special needs, are being underserved due to the public education system’s failure to provide in-person learning options.”

Community Service Block Grants totaled nearly $1.7 billion in fiscal 2020. The order doesn’t specify how much of that money will be made available for scholarships, or how much each family could receive.

The president noted that the federal government has spent more than $13 billion this year to help states and school districts reopen in-person instruction safely. He said the continued lack of in-person learning options is hurting students in many ways, including food insecurity from missing free meals at school.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that school attendance is negatively correlated with a child’s risk of depression and various types of abuse,” Mr. Trump said. “States have seen substantial declines in reports of child maltreatment while school buildings have been closed, indicating that allegations are going unreported.”

He said school closures are “especially difficult for families with children with special needs.”

And the president warned that keeping classrooms closed long-term will harm low-income students more than others.

“In low-income zip codes, students’ math progress decreased by nearly 50 percent while school buildings were closed in the spring, and the math progress of students in middle-income zip codes fell by almost a third during the same period,” his order said “A recent analysis projected that, if in-person classes do not fully resume until January 2021, Hispanic, Black, and low-income students will lose 9.2, 10.3, and 12.4 months of learning, respectively.”

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said too many students “still lack access to much-needed in-person learning.”

She said the executive order “demonstrates our continued commitment to empowering students with the resources they need to find the right fit for their education.”

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