A report issued by Americans United in July detailed how the Trump administration used taxpayer funds under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) – money that was supposed to help workers at small businesses who were at risk of losing their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic – to funnel billions into the coffers of private schools, the majority of them religious. 

AU’s report found that private schools got billions in taxpayer money under PPP. Private schools, both religious and secular, got between $2.67 billion and $6.47 billion. (Precise figures are impossible to determine given the way the administration released information.) At least 5,691 private schools, including at least 4,006 private religious schools, got “loans” from PPP – but under the program, the loans can be mostly forgiven by the government as long as the schools meet a few criteria, so they are really grants.

Here are some other highlights from the report:

Private schools often received more money than nearby public schools: Public schools were not eligible for PPP but were able to receive funds from a separate coronavirus relief program called ESSER. The ESSER fund allocated $13.2 billion in pandemic recovery funds for public school districts. But the data show that private schools might have received as much as $6.47 billion under PPP. That’s nearly half of the ESSER fund – even though private schools serve only 10 percent of the student population.

Furthermore, AU’s report documents several cases where local public schools came up on the short end of the stick. In New Orleans, for example, the public school district, which serves more than 44,000 children, received a total of about $8 million in ESSER funds. Yet two private schools in that city, which serve a combined total of 2,400 students, received PPP funds of between $2 million and $5 million each. In other words, the public school district serves 18 times more children, but may have received less total aid than the private schools, and certainly received less per student. 

Well-heeled private schools walked away with a bundle: PPP money was supposed to help small businesses and others that might have experienced difficulty meeting payroll. Yet millions of tax dollars ended up in the coffers of wealthy private institutions.

Choate-Rosemary Hall, a private boarding and day school in Connecticut that has an endowment of $318 million and yearly tuition of $60,000, received from $5 million to $10 million in PPP funds. St. Andrew’s School, an Episcopal institution in Florida, received $2 million to $5 million in PPP aid, even though it has an endowment totaling more than $19 million. In Kentucky, St. Xavier High School in Louisville got $2 million to $5 million – yet it recently raised $42.7 million from private donors for renovations and scholarships.

Institutions that openly discriminate got tax dollars: AU found numerous instances of private schools with discriminatory policies getting PPP money. Indiana’s Cathedral High School has expelled a student for identifying as transgender and refuses to hire teachers married to same-sex spouses. In Virginia, Timberlake Christian Schools’ website states that it will refuse admission to any student whose “conduct within a particular home is counter to or in opposition to the biblical lifestyle that the school teaches.” Liberty Christian School in Indiana notes in its admissions policies that the school may not admit students with a “physical handicap, which would impair the learning process under normal education conditions,” or a “learning disability.” Each of these schools received PPP funding ranging from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars.

AU noted that the giveaway to private schools isn’t over yet. As this issue of Church & State went to press, President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos were calling for even more public funding of private schools in the next pandemic relief bill, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) seems eager to appease them. 

The report can be read online at AU’s website, www.au.org.  


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