The Trump Administration Funneled Billions of Coronavirus Relief Funds into Private Schools. Now, They Want More


These are unprecedented and difficult times, but even in the worst of times, we must adhere to the Constitution -- it protects religious freedom for us all.  

The Paycheck Protection Program, created by the CARES Act COVID-19 emergency stimulus funding, was designed to allow small businesses, nonprofits and people who are self-employed to get loans to cover salaries and other costs. 

But in an unprecedented move, the Trump administration allowed this money to fund houses of worship and private, mostly religious schools too. Americans United’s policy experts have analyzed the data on the billions of dollars that private schools, many of which are religious, received from the PPP. President Donald Trump, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are trying to exploit coronavirus relief packages to push their private school voucher agenda rather than assisting our country’s public schools that educate 90 percent of American schoolchildren.

Our experts have summarized AU’s initial findings in this report. Some highlights include:

  • Congress has already given private religious and secular schools between $2.67 billion and $6.47 billion in relief money.
  • Public schools weren’t eligible for PPP money; instead, they qualified for a separate $13.2 billion pool of relief funds. If the PPP money given to private schools is at the high end of the range ($6.47 billion), that means private schools have already received funding equivalent to half of the money allocated for public school districts, despite serving only one-tenth the number of students.
  • There are multiple examples of private schools receiving significantly more relief money per student than the local public school district.
  • Private schools with some of the highest tuition and endowments received PPP money, including five of the 10 most expensive private schools in the country.
  • PPP money was given to private schools, many of them religious, that have discriminatory policies and reject students on the basis of religion, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity, and ability.

Additionally, under the PPP, the loans can be forgiven if used largely to cover salaries—essentially converting the loans to grants. But, these grants fund clergy salaries and other religious activities. That violates core values of religious freedom, which ensure that the people are never taxed to fund the salaries of clergy.

Under the Constitution, taxpayer dollars cannot fund religious activities, including clergy salaries. It protects us all by ensuring taxpayers are not forced to support someone else’s religion and that the government does not intrude upon religion. Americans United believes the PPP should adhere to this principle—loans used for religious activities, such as clergy salaries, should not be forgiven. This issue is a primary reason the First Amendment was drafted in the first place.

AU also released a blog post