December 2021 | Number 470
Build Back Better Bill Suffers Setback
Readers of CAPE Outlook the last few months are aware of private school concerns over the pre-kindergarten and childcare provisions in the "Build Back Better" legislation that is a top priority of the Biden Administration. Those concerns were laid out in a letter from CAPE to congressional leaders and include the fact that under the bill, providers would be considered recipients of federal financial assistance. This would be a stark departure from thirty years of federal childcare policy under the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program and would gravely harm the ability and willingness of religious schools to participate.

On December 19, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia announced that after months of negotiations, he would not be able to vote for the Build Back Better bill. Without his vote, it is widely believed that Senate Democrats do not have the votes to pass the legislation out of the Senate. Democratic leaders announced their intention to continue forward with the bill in the new year, but the future of the legislation is very much in question. Stay tuned.
Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Crucial Maine Case
On December 8, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Carson v. Makin, brought by families objecting to the fact that Maine's school choice program excludes religious schools. In Maine, state law authorizes school districts that do not operate their own high schools to provide tuition payments allowing families to select the private school of their choice, as long as the private school is not religious.

The case represents a sequel of sorts to last year's landmark Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, in which the Court ruled that religious schools cannot be excluded from school choice programs open to secular private schools. In September 2021, CAPE partnered with other concerned organizations to submit an amicus brief arguing that by discriminating against religious schools, Maine's law is unconstitutional.

You can read a SCOTUSblog overview of oral arguments here. A decision is expected by summer.
EdChoice Report: School Choice Saves States Money
School choice advocates know that the number one canard deployed in state capitals against vouchers, tax credit scholarships, and education savings accounts is that they "take money from the public schools." Now, Martin Lueken with EdChoice has released a report providing further evidence that choice programs can and do actually save states money. Titled "Fiscal Effects of School Choice: Analyzing the costs and savings of private school choice programs in America," the report finds that:

  • Through FY 2018, the 40 educational choice programs under study generated an estimated $12.4 billion to $28.3 billion in cumulative net fiscal savings for state and local taxpayers. This range represents $3,300 to $7,500 per student participant. Given that 36 of the 40 programs included in the analysis were in operation for at least five years through FY 2018, the overall cumulative fiscal impact is likely closer to the upper bound estimate of $28.3 billion.

  • Educational choice programs generated between $1.80 to $2.85 in estimated fiscal savings, on average, for each dollar spent on the programs. These savings result from many of the students who exercised choice who would have been enrolled in a public school if these choice programs did not exist—and enrolled in public schools at a much larger taxpayer cost.

  • On average, if at least 50 percent of choice program students switched from public to private schools, these programs saved taxpayer dollars overall. For programs that have been in operation a long time, this break-even rate may be as low as 32 percent.

How is this possible? As Mike McShane explains in Forbes, "In general, private school choice programs are funded at a per-pupil amount less than what traditional public schools spend. That means every child that participates in the program costs the state less than if they stayed in public school. If, for example, a state would otherwise spend $10,000 on a student in a given year but instead they participate in a voucher program that is worth $6,000 per year, that student saves the state $4,000."
NYC Imposes Vaccine Mandate on Private School Employees
From the New York Times:

"New York City will require employees at yeshivas, Catholic schools and other private schools to be vaccinated against the coronavirus...

"The new expected to affect roughly 930 schools and 56,000 employees, city officials said...Students are not required to be vaccinated.

"A handful of states have already required private school workers to be vaccinated: California was the first state to issue a vaccine mandate for all teachers, covering public and private schools, but allowed a weekly testing option. Washington followed days later; its mandate offered no testing option, but allowed for religious or medical exemptions.

"The decision to include religious schools and not allow religious exemptions faced immediate opposition from some Jewish and Catholic leaders, who sent a letter to Mr. de Blasio on Thursday urging him to reconsider.

"'This is an area where government should be using its bully pulpit to persuade, not its regulatory arm to coerce,' said the letter from Rabbi David Zwiebel, the chairman of a group that represents religious and independent school leaders."
USDA Announces $1.5 Billion for School Meals
According to a Department of Agriculture release, the Biden Administration will be providing "up to $1.5 billion to states and school districts to help school meal program operators deal with the challenges of supply chain disruptions brought on by the pandemic."

"With funding made available through USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation, USDA will provide $1 billion for schools to purchase food for their meal programs and another $300 million for states to purchase foods to be distributed to schools. An additional $200 million will be used for cooperative agreements to purchase local foods for schools with a focus on buying from historically underserved producers."

The release says that nonprofit private schools are eligible for the $1 billion in Supply Chain Assistance funds.
Federal Court Rules in Favor of Bethel Christian
A federal court has ruled that Maryland violated the First Amendment rights of Bethel Christian Academy when it excluded its students from a taxpayer-funded voucher program. The school sued after being ejected from the state's voucher program, which occurred because the school's handbook contained language on marriage and sexuality that the state determined to be discriminatory.

On December 10, US District Judge Stephanie A. Gallagher sided with the school, ruling that "the Defendants have failed to put forth any evidence that Bethel’s policy has deterred a single prospective applicant from applying for admission at Bethel, let alone any evidence that Bethel has ever denied admission, expelled, or disciplined a student on the basis of sexual orientation."

She continued, "Bethel was not excluded from the BOOST program because it rejected any applicant on the basis of sexual orientation; or because it disciplined or expelled any student on that basis; or because it engaged in any other discriminatory conduct or behaved any differently than any other BOOST-participating school. Instead, Bethel was expelled from the program because it refused to change the admissions policy section of its handbook to reflect the views that the government wanted it to express. Put simply, Defendants did not demand that Bethel act differently to remain BOOST-eligible, they demanded that Bethel speak differently."

The state had also demanded that the school pay back $102,000 for its previous participation in the program, a requirement Judge Gallagher also overturned.
Detached from Reality
As mentioned above, EdChoice has an important new report out on the fiscal effects of school choice. While commenting on it in Forbes, Mike McShane mentions a previous study on school spending which made this remarkable discovery: "The average American thinks that we spend around $5,000 per student per year. The average school parent thinks that it is only $3,000 per student per year. Depending on what you count as an educational expenditure and where you’re located, the true number is closer to $12,500 to $15,000 per student per year nationally."

McShane correctly observes that the conversation about education spending in this country "is generally detached from reality."

As the "Year of Educational Choice" comes to an end -- a year which also saw an unprecedented amount of federal spending on public sector K-12 education -- here's hoping the new year brings us closer to a national conversation about these topics more in tune with the fiscal reality of state, local, and now federal spending, and the social reality of parents -- especially those without means -- who more than ever want to be able to choose the education best suited for their children.
Private Education: Good for Students, Good for Families, Good for America
CAPE member organizations:

Agudath Israel of America

Association of Christian Schools

Association of Christian
Teachers and Schools

Association of Waldorf
Schools of N.A.

Christian Schools International

Council of Islamic Schools
in North America

Council on Educational Standards
and Accountability
Evangelical Lutheran Church
in America

Friends Council on Education

Islamic Schools League of America

Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod

National Association of
Episcopal Schools

National Association of
Independent Schools

National Catholic
Educational Association
National Christian School

Office for Lasallian Education
Christian Brothers Conference

Oral Roberts University
Educational Fellowship

Seventh-day Adventist
Board of Education

United States Conference of
Catholic Bishops

Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran
Synod Schools
Affiliated State Organizations a coalition of national associations serving private schools K-12

Executive Director:
Michael Schuttloffel

Outlook is published monthly (September to June) by CAPE.
ISSN 0271-145

1300 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20004
Tel: 844-883-CAPE
Michael Schuttloffel
Executive Director
Phone: 844-883-CAPE