Rep. Burgess Owens’ bill uses pandemic money to help K-12 students catch up

Utah Republican Rep. Burgess Owens wants to bring school choice to the national level, at least temporarily.

Encouraged by a new Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, Owens recently sponsored a bill that would provide scholarships for children that could be used to pay for private school tuition and tutoring.

“Education should be seen as a citizenship,” Owens told the Deseret News in an interview. I keep it hidden.”

Legislators typically decide whether to give families the option to spend public education funds on private schools, tutoring, or other educational aids. But Owens wants to force school districts to give parents choices regarding the use of federal education funds already allocated.

New Harvard/Stanford analysis Due to school closures, students were found to be more than half a grade behind in mathematics and about a quarter behind in reading. Studies have shown that some poorer students fell even further behind.

With so many children in need of corrective guidance and intervention, Owens says he wants parents to make decisions about how to help their children catch up.

Raising Expectations with Children’s Opportunity Vouchers for Recovery in Education (RECOVER) Act Allows Parents and School Districts to Take Advantage of Funds Already Allotted Under President Joe Biden’s $1.7 Trillion America Relief Plan Act will be

Under America’s Relief Plan Act, the U.S. Department of Education will allocate $122 billion to states and school districts in March 2021 to open up classrooms and address the impact the pandemic has had on student learning.

After two years, about 77% of the allocated funds are still unused across the country, Owens said. Utah and its school districts received a total of $615 million in education funding.

The Utah Board of Education confirmed to Deseret News that about 75% of these funds have not yet been used, but spokesperson Kelsey James said Congress has until Sept. 30, 2024 to use the funds. I gave it to the school district.

“It’s important to note that these funds are 100% mandated, which means every dollar has a plan,” James said in an email. She added that because this funding is her third tranche of the Federal Education Pandemic Fund, the board is encouraging school districts to spend her first two allocations before using the latest funding. rice field.

Who decides how the remaining funds will be used?

Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona recommended According to Owens, that directive appears to have been ignored, and much of the funding has been disregarded in order to “use the school district with the same sense of urgency with which the President and Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act” in 2021. is not yet used.

His bill would use the money to establish a “Children’s Opportunity Scholarship” to pay for education costs such as private school tuition, tutoring services, or educational therapy for children with learning disabilities. Help. Individual school districts determine the amount each student receives, but the decision about how the money is spent is left to parents.

“It’s the school district that not only parents know best, but who knows best how to support and serve,” Owens said. He believes that the education of the country’s children is primarily the responsibility of parents who work with local school administrators and teachers.

The Owens scholarship will continue as long as the individual school district has funds left for the American Rescue Plan. Owens said the scholarship is intended to help students catch up in the aftermath of the pandemic and does not expect the spending to become a permanent fixture in future federal budgets.

Will this “punish” public schools?

But some see his bill as an attempt to undermine public schools. Sasha Pudelsky, his director of advocacy for the Association of Superintendents of Schools, a national lobby group, said Owens’ bill would “punish schools” by following the rules. Grab resources (of public schools) and try to send them to private schools. ”

Pudelsky said the law already states that funds should be used to help children catch up and that schools should work with parents on how to spend money. She accused Owens’ bill of “pulling the rug out” from under school districts that have already started spending money, and she said the bill would pit parents against parents.

“Why should one group of parents who want taxpayer subsidies to pay for private schools need to take money away from what more groups of parents want,” she said. said.

While some criticize the nationwide push for parental choice in education, others applaud the move.

Max Eden, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told Deseret News that the school district was supposed to use American Rescue Plan funds to help children, but he didn’t believe this happened. He attributed the delay to lobbying by the teachers’ union.

“ARPA funds are largely unused, except in problematic ways such as increasing teacher salaries and other labor costs that create a budget cliff,” he said.

Eden said he believes using “one-off” funds for ongoing expenses will cause the district’s budget problems in about two years.

The relief, he said, would require additional inflows of federal funds or cut backs on school personnel and programs that hurt the surrounding communities. Eden argued that this was the desired result by teachers’ unions, which he said had prevented school districts from spending on the American Rescue Plan to this point.

“Given the relatively small amount of money that school districts spend on tutoring and the high amount that is spent on labor and capital expenditures, Owens believes that parents could better use this money to help their children. I think you are right,” he said.

Conservatives have argued that the federal government should not get involved in education, but Owens said the bill was not a “top-down federal mandate” and was not “tethered.” Local school districts and parents will decide how to spend the money on a case-by-case basis, he said.

But while Pudelski agrees that it’s important to include parents in their children’s education, school districts are already “making community decisions on how best to spend this unprecedented amount of federal funding.” She argued that there was no need for a Republican bill because there was “ample opportunity to provide input to schools.”

“There is no way a parent can go to school and say, ‘I’m not happy here.’ Please give me some money so I can send my children to a religious school nearby,” she said.

support of a parliamentary majority

Owens believes his bill will pass the Republican-controlled House, but beyond the House, Democrats control the Senate, making it unlikely that Biden would endorse it, making the bill a difficult one. I agree to follow the path.

Eden said the president “would never sign a bill like this” because Democrats “begotten” the teachers’ union. But he said he thinks the bill is a great “message bill” for Republicans.

Owens said he wanted to send a message to parents in the U.S. capital that some are trying to give them options to help their children.

He also said his bill is emblematic of what the public can expect from the Republican majority in Congress.

“The goal of the Republican Party is to be innovative enough to ensure accountability, but to allow each region to make its own decisions,” Owens said.

https://www.deseret.com/2023/3/3/23580015/burgess-owens-students-federal-scholarship-bill-pandemic-arpa-senator-tim-scott Rep. Burgess Owens’ bill uses pandemic money to help K-12 students catch up

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