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Orthodox Jewish groups welcome $2.75b for private schools in COVID relief bundle

Following successful lobbying, US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer includes aid in $1.9 trillion pandemic rescue package

Andrew Silow-Carroll is the editor-in-chief of JTA

School buses lined up in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, April 24, 2019. (Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images/JTA)
School buses lined up in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, April 24, 2019. (Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images/JTA)

JTA — After successful lobbying by US Orthodox Jewish groups and others, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer tucked $2.75 billion in aid for private schools into the $1.9 trillion pandemic rescue package.

The move came over the objections of some Democratic leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and public school advocates who have fought efforts to funnel federal money to private schools. The National Education Association expressed “strong disappointment” at what it called a “Betsy DeVos-era” policy, referring to former US president Donald Trump’s education secretary.

The funding did pick up a surprise endorsement from Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers and a frequent critic of government aid for sectarian schooling. She told The New York Times “it would be a ‘shonda’ if we didn’t actually provide the emotional support and nonreligious supports that all of our children need right now,” using the Yiddish word for “scandal.”

Nathan Diament, public policy director at the Orthodox Union, thanked Schumer, a New York Democrat.

“It’s still the case that 10 percent of America’s students are in nonpublic schools, and they are just as impacted by the crisis as the other 90%,” Diament told The Times.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. (Courtesy Professional Staff Congress/via JTA)

A previous coronavirus stimulus signed by Trump in December included $2.75 billion for private schools hit hard by the pandemic, a move backed by Orthodox and Roman Catholic groups. The current package directs governors to prioritize the private-school funding for schools serving disadvantaged students and private schools “most impacted” by the virus, according to Education Week.

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