For students and teachers across Minnesota, the coronavirus pandemic has brought massive change. With schools closed through the end of the school year, many will miss out on traditions such as prom, senior trips, concerts and in-person graduation ceremonies.
However, students in non-public and public schools have risen to the challenge and transitioned to distance learning to meet the public health challenges of COVID-19 and avoid creating environments where community spread could be worsened.
Many of our state’s non-public schools are united by values that hold up the love of neighbor and coming together to overcome our challenges. Just as non-public schools have been part of flattening the curve, they should be a part of the assistance programs designed to help schools and students through this crisis. That is a truly “One Minnesota” approach.
The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act included $3 billion in the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund to make sure education continues for students of all ages impacted by the coronavirus national emergency. Minnesota has been allocated $43 million under the program.
In a letter to governors announcing the funds, the U.S. Department of Education described GEER as an “extraordinarily flexible emergency block grant” that governors can use to meet the current needs of students and schools in all education sectors, including charter and non-public schools. Recent guidance from the U.S. Department of Education says that when a school district sets aside CARES Act money for equitable services, "All students and teachers in a non-public school are eligible to receive equitable services under the CARES Act programs."
Ensuring that these funds are provided equitably to all Minnesota schools, including non-public and independent schools, is critical to supporting all students across our state. A broad coalition of organizations representing 65,000 students who attend more than 450 non-public K-12 schools in Minnesota recently came together to ask Gov. Walz to consider the needs of all students and schools when distributing GEER funds. The letter included leaders from the White Earth Nation, the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, the Minnesota Business Partnership, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod Minnesota South District, Torah Academy, Al-Amal School and many others.
As leaders of non-public schools in Minnesota, we know first-hand the challenges our students face. Minnesota has non-public schools in challenged inner city communities, on tribal lands and in rural areas throughout Minnesota. Our schools serve a large share of disadvantaged students, and many of our families have been hard hit by the economic impact of the coronavirus.
Our parents select non-public schools because they fit the needs of their children by providing a smaller school setting, rigorous academic programs, and a safe environment for learning. We support all school sectors — including public, charter and non-public schools — because we believe one size does not fit all for delivering education to students.
Since the pandemic swept across the U.S. and Minnesota, the state’s non-public school community has come together to provide technology to students for distance learning, meals for students who need food assistance and support for parents who are helping educate children at home. We know that the coronavirus is a public health threat to all of our schools, and we need to support all students. Every one of Minnesota’s schools — whether they are public, charter or non-public — are an essential part of the fabric of our communities.
Non-public schools have been hit hard by this pandemic as they rely upon tuition and philanthropy in order to survive. With more than 600,000 Minnesotans losing their jobs and the economy headed into a severe recession, the operations of many private schools could be jeopardized. Losing schools in this crisis would be an additional tragedy. In addition, if large numbers of non-public school students transferred into the public school system, it would create a new cost burden at the same time public schools are seeking their own assistance.
We are hopeful that when we move past this immediate crisis, all our state’s schools will be well-positioned to help communities and students recover and grow. In order to do so, we ask Gov. Walz to use his authority under the CARES Act to provide needed relief to all Minnesota schools in a fair and equitable manner.
Ghada Al-Sadoon is principal at Al-Amal School in Fridley, Joshua "J.B." Borenstein is executive director of Torah Academy in St. Louis Park, Anne Gattman is principal of St. Jerome School in Maplewood and Randy Pfeifle is head of schools for Edgerton Christian Elementary and Southwest Minnesota Christian High School in Edgerton.