A new Arizona school choice program will fund school tuition for eligible students whose public schools close amid a spike in COVID-19 Omicron variant cases, according to a press release from Republican Gov. Doug Ducey.
The Open for Learning Recovery Benefit program gives parents a maximum of $7,000 to pay for child care, transportation to education centers, online tutoring and school tuition to help cater to students who fail to perform in virtual learning environments, according to the press release. Eligible parents can opt into the program “if a school closes for even one day.”
“In Arizona, we’re going to ensure continued access to in-person learning,” Ducey said. “Everyone agrees that schools should stay open and kids need to be in the classroom. With this announcement, we are making sure parents and families have options if a school closes its doors.”
The program was introduced as teachers unions nationwide declared schools unsafe amid the Omicron case spike. National Educators United, a grassroots teachers union that operates in Arizona, called for a minimum “two-week pause” on classroom learning beginning Jan. 3.
Similar calls for school shutdowns are taking place in Chicago, and more than 2,100 public schools nationwide — primarily in New York, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia — shut down for the first few days following winter break.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and President Joe Biden advocated for schools to remain open amid the Omicron spike, despite their push for lockdowns at the beginning of the pandemic. Both the CDC and Biden now recommend a test-to-stay program for schools that would allow asymptomatic students to return to in-person learning.
According to the CDC’s website, children are no more likely to transmit the coronavirus in school settings than in community settings. Reports also uncovered that “limited in-person instruction during the pandemic may have had a negative effect on learning for children and on the mental and emotional well-being of both parents and children,” according to the CDC.
School choice programs such as Arizona’s could threaten the public teacher union’s bargaining power amid any potential strikes, since students and parents would not need to rely entirely on public school options to receive a quality education, according to school choice advocate Corey DeAngelis.
“This move is a step in the right direction towards freeing families from the clutches of the teachers unions once and for all,” DeAngelis told the Daily Caller.