May 2021 | Number 465
FCC Approves Emergency Connectivity Fund
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) this week approved rules governing the $7.1 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund Program (ECFP) passed as part of the latest COVID relief bill. These funds are available for schools to purchase laptops, tablets, hotspots, and other forms of connectivity for students and teachers. 

The program will be similar in some ways to the E-Rate program, but there are significant differences. All schools may apply whether or not they have participated in E-rate in the past.

Within the next two months, the FCC will open an initial 45-day application window. This first window will allow schools to seek funding for future purchases of approved services and devices. Importantly, schools will have the option of having their technology vendor submit for reimbursement from the government rather than the school receiving the funding directly, which may reduce the school's exposure as far as any potential status as a recipient of federal financial assistance.

If any of the $7.1 billion in available funding remains, the FCC can open a second application window and allow schools to seek retroactive reimbursement for past purchases from the March 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021 timeframe. However, as a practical matter, this will likely necessitate a school's receiving the funds directly from the government, thereby potentially making it a recipient of federal financial assistance.

Laptop and tablet computers are permissible devices, however desktop computers and cell phones are not. The program will pay up to $400 for computers and $250 for hotspots, though schools are allowed to buy more expensive devices so long as they use other funds to pay the balance. The FCC has also established limits on the number of internet access connections and devices that the program will pay for: one fixed broadband connection (or modem) per location and one computer per student or staff member.
Florida Passes Massive School Choice Expansion
The state of Florida, which already leads the nation in the number of families accessing choice programs, is expanding educational opportunity even further. This week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law what the Miami Herald describes as a "sweeping $200 million school-choice proposal that would combine and significantly expand the state’s voucher programs that help families pay for private schooling...the legislation would pave the way for about 61,000 new students to qualify for taxpayer-funded vouchers."
Major School Choice Gains Achieved in Indiana
Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb has signed what the Indiana Non-Public Education Association (INPEA) described as a "huge school choice win."

From the Wall Street Journal on April 22:

"Ten years ago in these columns, we hailed Indiana for its leadership in establishing one of America’s most ambitious school voucher programs. On Thursday the Indiana Legislature built on that achievement by approving a budget that will take the program to 48,000 students a year from about 37,000.

"The choice provisions in the budget have three main components. The first would lift the income cap for eligibility to $145,000 a year from $96,000. This would make as much as 90% of the population eligible for the program. The bill would also increase the voucher amount to 90% of tuition support levels, and eliminate the existing tiered system.

"Another provision would establish Education Savings Accounts for children with special needs. The budget also increases the per student grants for charter schools to $1,000 next year and $1,250 in the second year from $750 today.

"That common union line about choice robbing public schools isn’t true. Though the final breakdown of the $1.9 billion in extra education spending won’t be known until after parents have made their choices for their children, the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency does a projection of how the money will be distributed based on anticipated student enrollment. According to this projection, 92% of Indiana students will be in traditional public schools, and 93% of all education funding will go to these schools. This is before the $3 billion in federal funding that Indiana will receive from the latest Covid spending bill, almost all of which will go to the public schools.

"Since 2011, when Indiana pushed through its first voucher plan, more than a quarter-million Hoosier students have benefited. In an interview with Today’s Catholic, former Gov. Mitch Daniels explains the moral logic of choice this way: 'Providing poor and minority families the same choice of schools that their wealthier neighbors enjoy is the purest example of ‘social justice’ in our society today.'"
Tax Credit Scholarship Program Passed in Arkansas
Arkansas has a new $2 million tax credit scholarship program on the books which will allow families at or below 200% of the poverty line to participate. Donors to the program will receive a 100% tax credit.
Montana Dramatically Increases Tax Credit Scholarship Program After Supreme Court Case
Regular readers of Outlook will be familiar with the landmark case Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, in which the US Supreme Court overturned a decision by the Montana Supreme Court striking down a tax credit scholarship program solely because some of the children receiving scholarships attended religious schools.

In the wake of that historic decision, Montana legislators have passed, and the governor has signed, legislation raising the maximum tax credit for program donors from a paltry $150 to $200,000 (you read that right).

Jeff Laszloffy of the Montana Family Foundation told MTN News, "The importance of this effort cannot be overstated...When HB279 was signed into law, the big winners were parents and their children."
Department of Education Announces Green Ribbon Schools
Three private schools have been selected as Green Ribbon Schools by the US Department of Education. They are:

The Nueva School, Hillsborough, CA

According to the Department, the purpose of the Green Ribbon Schools recognition award is to highlight schools' efforts in reducing environmental impact and costs, improving health and wellness, and establishing effective environmental and sustainability education.
Good News and Bad News
As seen above, school choice is on the move in the states, and we at Outlook fully expect to report on yet more successes in our June 2021 edition. Bills creating new choice programs or expanding existing ones have been passed by legislative bodies in Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas, West Virginia, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, and South Dakota. Support for choice has been trending up for years, but the pandemic has given many parents a new perspective on the issue.

Cutting against that good news comes a sobering piece in the Wall Street Journal, the title of which pretty much says it all: "Catholic Schools Are Losing Students at Record Rates, and Hundreds Are Closing."

From the story:

"At least 209 of the country’s nearly 6,000 Catholic schools have closed over the past year, according to the National Catholic Educational Association. More closures are expected this summer.

"Nationwide, Catholic school enrollment fell 6.4% at the start of this school year, the largest single-year decline since the NCEA began tracking such data in the 1970s. Urban dioceses have been hit especially hard: Enrollment in schools run by the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles was down 12% at the start of this school year. In the Archdiocese of New York, enrollment was down 11%.

"In Boston, 11 of the 111 schools in the archdiocese closed this year. 'They were serving populations that were hardest hit by the economic shutdown,' said Tom Carroll, superintendent for the Archdiocese of Boston. When schools hit financial difficulties in past years, he added, the archdiocese could help keep them afloat. That wasn’t possible during the pandemic, as in-person services shut down and donations plummeted. 'Because all entities of the Catholic church were under extraordinary stress at the same time, nobody could bail anybody out,' Mr. Carroll said.

"Even before the pandemic hit, about 100 Catholic schools were closing each year, according to the NCEA. In 1970, some 4.4 million students attended Catholic elementary and secondary schools...Today, about 1.6 million students attend Catholic schools."

Amidst this bad news, though, a glimmer of hope: a year ago, private school advocates were concerned about waves of school closures on a scale magnitudes of order larger than what is described by the Journal here. With the economy closed, and millions losing their jobs, who would be able to pay tuition? What if state and local governments ordered all schools closed, who would pay for a year worth of Zoom? There was nervous talk of hundreds of thousands or even millions of private school children being surged into the public school system.

That did not happen. Private education not only survived, but made America notice its important role as a pillar of countless communities. A lot of people like what they've seen the last twelve months.

Our schools have their work cut out for them. Serious challenges remain. But the private school teachers, administrators, and families who made it through these extraordinary circumstances should be proud of their efforts.
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

Jesuit Schools Network

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