The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has condemned a proposed COVID-19 relief bill that excludes support for children and families enrolled in non-public schools.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all Americans, including those whose children are enrolled in Catholic and non-public schools,” said Bishop Michael Barber, SJ of Oakland in a statement released on Thursday, October 1. Barber leads the USCCB’s Committee on Catholic Education.
“It is unconscionable that this latest aid proposal would exclude these American children and the schools they attend from emergency aid that would ease the financial burdens they have borne as a result of the pandemic,” said Barber.
The bill, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, would provide $182 billion for K-12 public schools, but no equivalent services for non-public schools. This version of the HEROES Act was proposed by the House Democrats and may be heard as soon as Thursday, said the USCCB.
Additionally, the bill prohibits the use of funds to assist families who have children enrolled in non-public schools.
Approximately 150 Catholic schools have closed due to the pandemic, said Barber, “many in low-income areas that serve children of color.”
“Congress and the White House must come together to support emergency aid that prioritizes the health and safety of all students, including non-public school children and the nearly two million students enrolled in Catholic schools,” he said.
In July, Barber was one of the signatories of a letter to the Congressional Black Caucus requesting aid for non-public school students that was equivalent to the percentage of schoolchildren who are enrolled in non-public schools.
After noting that public schools have requested an additional $300 billion in the next coronavirus aid package, the bishops asked in July that “families of non-public schools be considered as part of the comprehensive needs of K12 education, since non-public students represent ten percent of the K12 student population.”
The bishops requested that 10% of what is given to public schools “be directed specifically to the non-public school community to provide direct aid to families in the form of means-tested scholarships.”
Per the USCCB’s press release on Thursday, non-public schools “have had access to equitable services since 1965 and have been included in all recent federal emergency aid bills until now.”
The bishops have publicly supported the School Choice Now Act, which would provide one-time funding to scholarship-granting organizations, who would be authorized to allocate those funds to parents. The funds could be spent on private school tuition or expenses associated with homeschooling.
Catholic schools have endured a “triple whammy” this spring, Jennifer Daniels, the associate director for public policy in the USCCB’s secretariat for Catholic education, told CNA in July.
This “triple whammy” of families losing jobs, the suspension of Masses and their Sunday collections to offset tuition costs, and the cancellation of spring fundraisers has “had a severe impact on a school’s bottom line budget,” Daniels.