The conservative group Club for Growth Action is targeting Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden over his opposition to emergency school choice grants, designed to give parents options during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The organization spent millions in ad buys in the swing states of Arizona, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to inform the electorate of Biden’s position.
In a news release earlier this month, the Club for Growth noted President Donald Trump’s support for COVID-19 emergency school choice grants, as well as Biden’s opposition to them.
At a media briefing in late July, Trump voiced his support for parents receiving direct payments from the government if schools chose not to open in the fall.
“If schools do not reopen, the funding should go to parents to send their child to public, private, charter, religious or homeschool of their choice,” the president said. “The key word being ‘choice.’ If the school is closed, the money should follow the student so the parents and families are in control of their own decisions.
“So we’d like the money to go to the parents of the student. This way, they can make the decision that’s best for them,” Trump added.
The Club for Growth Action’s ad, “Catch Up,” says in contrast: “Even with hundreds of public schools closed indefinitely, Biden opposes emergency parental choice grants, preventing parents from choosing options like private tutoring or charter schools if their public school is closed.
“A lost year is unacceptable, but four under Biden, that’s a lost generation.”
The group spent $5 million in its first round of ad buys, which began on Aug. 10, and the organization’s president, David McIntosh, told The Western Journal it will be spending an additional $5 million in the same three states next week.
The political action committee further highlighted Biden’s opposition to school choice in a website it launched called BadChoiceBiden.com.
The site points to a July NPR piece about the former vice president’s school reopening plan, which makes no provision for school choice, only offering funding to public schools.
In a January tweet regarding the Espinoza case then before the Supreme Court, Biden expressed his opposition to vouchers.
“When we divert public funds to private schools, we undermine the entire public education system,” he wrote. “We’ve got to prioritize investing in our public schools, so every kid in America gets a fair shot. That’s why I oppose vouchers. #Espinoza.”
When we divert public funds to private schools, we undermine the entire public education system. We’ve got to prioritize investing in our public schools, so every kid in America gets a fair shot. That’s why I oppose vouchers. #Espinoza
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) January 23, 2020
In a June ruling, the Supreme Court upheld plaintiff Kendra Espinoza’s right to apply a Montana tax credit scholarship toward her two daughters’ Christian school tuition.
Ed Choice reported that 18 states — including Arizona and Pennsylvania, where Club for Growth is running its ads — have these scholarship programs in place.
“We realized over the summer that parents were in this really increasingly difficult spot with what to do about schooling for their kids, with the COVID pandemic in the spring forcing many schools to shut down or switch over to distance learning,” McIntosh told The Western Journal.
He said many parents have decided over the summer break: “We survived that for a couple of months, but I don’t want that for my child next year because they’re falling behind. It’s difficult for them to get the lessons.”
McIntosh explained the Club for Growth worked with the White House and allies on Capitol Hill to put together its education choice proposal calling for coronavirus education relief dollars to be able to follow the student in the form of a scholarship.
Parents could then turn around and hire tutors, put together “pods” of kids for local homeschooling groups or send their kids to private schools that remain open. The amount per child would be up to $10,000, based on expenses.
The proposal is popular in Arizona and other battleground states, McIntosh said, based on his organization’s polling.
Earlier this month, GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas introduced the Coronavirus Emergency Education Grants Act, which mirrors the Club for Growth’s plan and incorporates provisions from previous school choice legislation the lawmaker offered last year.
McIntosh noted that when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ran for office in 2018, he strongly backed expanding the state’s tax credit-funded tuition scholarship program.
DeSantis’ position, in contrast to his Democratic opponent’s, allowed DeSantis to garner a significantly higher percentage of the minority vote from “school choice moms” than Republicans traditionally do, tipping the close election in his favor.
“This is a very potent political issue,” McIntosh said.
Sally Henry, communications director for the Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization, is supportive of the proposed federal COVID-19 emergency education grants to parents.
“I think continuity of education for children is super important, and regardless of the cost, I think families should be able to afford to keep them where their children are thriving and learning the best,” Henry told The Western Journal.
Henry said she believes the federal COVID-19 emergency education grants would be a “huge blessing to families here in Arizona simply because the financial barriers would be broken and families could go where they want.”
GOP Rep. Debbie Lesko of Arizona also strongly backs the proposal.
“I totally support the money following the student, and for the parent to choose whatever education is best for their child,” she told The Western Journal.
Lesko pointed out that there are charter schools in her district opening for in-person learning, and parents should have the option to send their kids there.
“Teachers are essential workers, and the schools need to reopen,” she contended.
“But if they’re not going to reopen, parents should be able to use their taxpayer dollars and choose what’s best for their child.”
Given the Democrats’ close ties to public school teachers unions, it seems highly doubtful legislation providing for emergency school choice grants would pass the House of Representatives in a straight vote, but perhaps some flexibility in how education dollars are spent could be included in COVID-19 relief legislation.
At the very least, the Club for Growth ads are highlighting a major divide between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to education.
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