Sen. Rand Paul introduces legislation to allow federal education dollars to follow students

By Bethany Blankley | The Center Square

As states and local governments grapple over reopening schools in the fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, introduced a bill to ensure that federal education money follows students regardless of where they are educated.

Paul introduced the Support Children Having Open Opportunities for Learning (SCHOOL) Act on Wednesday, which would be applicable to students in grades K-12.

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Federal education dollars are currently sent to states, which administer the funds to public school districts. Sen. Rand Paul’s legislation would allow DOE funds to go directly to the parents of K-12 students, who could choose to use the funds for public school private school education and homeschooling.

“As the impact of the ongoing pandemic and the government response efforts continue to place parents in situations requiring greater flexibility in balancing working and providing for their families’ critical needs, especially when educating their children at home, my SCHOOL Act grants them that flexibility by empowering them to use their own tax dollars to find the option that best fits their family’s needs and allowing them to reclaim a bit of stability in uncertain times,” Sen. Paul said.

On Tuesday, president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, announced that the union would pursue various tactics to prevent public schools from reopening in the fall, including filing lawsuits and organizing strikes.

Last month, one of the largest teachers unions in California said it opposed reopening schools until their demands were met.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy Devos said she was “very seriously” considering withholding federal funding from schools that don’t reopen in the fall.

“Kids have got to continue learning, and schools have got to open up,” she told Fox News last month. “There’s got to be a concerted effort to address the needs of all kids, and adults who are fear mongering and making excuses simply have to stop doing it and turn their attention to what is right for students and for their families.”

Federal education dollars are currently sent to states, which administer the funds to public school districts. Sen. Paul’s legislation would allow DOE funds to go directly to the parents of K-12 students, who could choose to use the funds for public school private school education and homeschooling. Funding can be used towards tuition, the purchase of curriculum materials or technological devices, special education needs and classes outside of the home.

“As families face the reality of hybrid learning or a completely virtual school year, students, especially those with disabilities, need a choice in education and the tools to succeed no matter where they are learning,” Sen. Paul said in a statement.

The bill amends two acts: the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. It allows certain funds authorized by these laws to follow a child’s education. Each child would receive the same amount of funding, regardless of where or how a child is educated.

Corey DeAngelis, director of school choice at the Reason Foundation, argues that tax dollars should fund students not systems. DeAngelis, who has been chronicling the schools that have stated whether or not they are reopening, their restrictions, and whether or not they are introducing new curriculum, argues that if a child’s school doesn’t reopen, parents should be able to take their education dollars elsewhere.

But even if schools do reopen, the principle remains the same: parents “should be able to take their education dollars elsewhere,” he argues. “The money is for educating the child. It should follow them to wherever they receive an education.”

A recent RealClear Opinion Research poll found that a strong majority surveyed support school choice and 40 percent are more likely to pursue homeschooling opportunities after COVID-19 restrictions end.

Slightly more than 40 percent polled said they are more likely to home school or virtual school after lockdowns. Before the coronavirus shutdown, roughly 4 percent of K-12 students were in home education settings.

Meanwhile, teachers reacted strongly on social media outlets to comments Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, made about schools reopening.

“As you try to get back to school, we’re going to be learning about that,” he said. “In many respects, unfortunately, though this may sound a little scary and harsh—I don’t mean it to be that way—is that you’re going to actually be part of the experiment of the learning curve of what we need to know. Remember, early on when we shut down the country as it were, the schools were shut down, so we don’t know the full impact, we don’t have the total database of knowing what there is to expect.”

Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

9 thoughts on “Sen. Rand Paul introduces legislation to allow federal education dollars to follow students

  1. Unfortunately, with the exception of Federal Special Education reimbursements, the lion’s share of public school funding in Vermont comes from the State’s education property tax. And Special Education funds (Federal and State) already follow the student – to public and/or private schools.

    Yes, Paul’s initiative is a step in the right direction. But it’s a small step for parents and students, not a giant leap.

    The only way, currently, to get State education funds to follow the student is through the several School Choice ‘tuitioning’ statutes:
    § 821 School district to maintain public elementary schools or pay tuition

    § 822 School district to maintain public high schools or pay tuition

    § 822a Public high school choice

    § 823 Elementary tuition

    § 824 High school tuition

    § 825 Maximum tuition rate; calculated net cost per pupil defined

    § 826 Notice of tuition rates; special education charges

    § 827 Designation of a public high school or an approved independent high school as the public high school of a school district

    § 828 Tuition to approved schools; age; appeal

    Parents need to learn the ins and outs of these laws so they can take advantage of the State funding already available to them…. unless, of course, everyone is more interested with the controversy than with the cure.

    • Great information Jay. Parents do have a number of choices as you have noted. There is a caution though in my opinion. Parents that home school have understood that they do so without remuneration for that activity. The intelligent ones also do not expect the state to enter into Individual family contracts where state money flows to the parents for the education of their children being home schooled. They understand that they are not certified by any agency to provide the education required of the town’s institution’s.
      This is not an indictment of the parents ability to educate. Many children get excellent education from their parents in a home-schooling situation.
      However, there is a movement for from some to be reimbursed from the town the money the town would spend on that child in their educational system.
      For a town and a state to absorb this inequity would foment and educational anarchy which could not stand.

      • The work-around for tuition funding home schooling is for parents to find a public or private school that is willing to incorporate in-home instruction in its education program. The degree to which in-home instruction is incorporated in an education program is a decision the parents make in consultation with the school. My wife and I did this 15 years ago with our children, when our kids attended the local high school but took ‘independent study’ in Language Arts recognized as a high school credit.

        Characterizing these arrangements as ‘educational anarchy’ is a tendency we experienced so many years ago with our children’s programs. In effect, some people mistakenly see free markets as anarchy because every individual creates their own program. While, in reality, the practice demonstrates the true elegance of free market economies in general – especially when compared to the current one-size-fits-all methodology.

        How is the funding allocated? The same way it is when you go to college – cost is calculated by the course credits taken. And even when I was in college 50 years ago, ‘independent study’ courses (designed by the student in consultation with a college advisor) were recognized toward one’s degree program. ‘Inequity’ is a non-issue. Equal access, on the other hand, based on the per credit funding formula is assured. In other words, the money follows the student – which is the way it should be.

      • I parents are doing home “approved” home schooling, or are already paying for private schools,

        They should be exempt from local and state school taxes.

        Why NOT?!

      • Many homeschooling families don’t want to get reimbursed from the government because they know that any monetary help they get opens up a door for the government to impose strings on that money just like the strings attached to any money the school districts get. I would rather be exempt from education property taxes versus receiving money from state or federal government for homeschooling my children because I don’t want to open up any doors for government interference in homeschooling.

        • What’s the difference between receiving a property tax exemption or receiving a tuition voucher? …other than the names? They’re both publicly funded education subsidies. In either case, if there are unwanted strings attached, no one is advocating that they be forced to take them. But, at the same time, don’t limit others from receiving the exemption of the voucher if they choose to take them.

          Here’s the deal – the current system is failing our students with high costs and poor outcomes while, at the same time, destroying much of our American culture. The system for which I advocate let’s everyone do what they choose to do and provides equal publically funded subsidies to do it.

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