Biden Stimulus Bill Would Squeeze Out Religious Schools From Child Care and Preschool, Some Providers Say

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Many religious schools may have to give up prekindergarten and child care if President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better federal stimulus bill passes in its current form, school officials say.

The bill would provide about $400 billion in federal funds designed to expand access to early childhood services, including child care and preschool.

It’s a big issue because in most American families the parents work outside the home. In 2020, both parents worked in about 60 percent of two-parent households, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. About 71 percent of single mothers worked that year, according to federal statistics.

About 53 percent of families who use child care choose faith-based organizations, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center.

But some religious school officials say the stimulus bill would force them either to forego federal funds that they would need in order to keep tuition costs affordable or to abide by federal non-discrimination rules that in some situations would violate their religious beliefs.

As currently written, the bill would require “any program or activity that receives funds” to provide child care and prekindergarten to follow federal non-discrimination rules in Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972. Those provisions prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex – which the rules define as including not just biological sex but also sexual orientation and gender identity.

Thomas Carroll, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Boston, says it’s critical that Catholic schools hire believing, practicing Catholics to be the principal and the religion teacher, for starters.

“Because they’re witnesses to our faith. That’s why we’re hiring them – to evangelize children,” Carroll said in an interview this week.

But he fears Catholic schools would be compromised if religious schools have to abide by non-discrimination rules. Instead, he said, Catholic schools and other religious schools would stop providing the services.

Carroll appeared Wednesday at a roundtable in Washington D.C. sponsored by Republican U.S. senators who solicited criticism of the proposed bill from experts.

Panelists included evangelical Protestants running Christian schools and operators of small for-profit day-care businesses. Some criticized proposed caps on revenue to providers, saying it would likely price them out of the market because they would have to raise tuition too high. Some also said newly proposed qualifications standards would prevent them from hiring employees they can afford to pay and who can do the work without the qualifications demanded by the bill.

Carroll focused on religious freedom. He said that for at least three decades the federal government has allowed religious institutions that provide services funded by the federal government to make hiring decisions based on their faith and not based on non-discrimination rules.

Carroll told GOP senators that the Build Back Better bill as currently drafted would do what state authorities in Massachusetts did to Catholic adoption services:  drive them out. In 2006, the Archdiocese of Boston stopped participating in adoptions in Massachusetts because state officials required that adoption agencies in the state not discriminate against same-sex couples.

He also likened the situation to what federal officials implementing Obamacare sought to do to the Little Sisters of the Poor – trying to force the religious order of nuns to provide contraception (which Catholic teaching condemns as immoral) in health insurance policies it provides employees at the nursing homes the order runs.

The end result of the current version of the Biden stimulus bill, Carroll said, is that parents would have fewer options for early childhood services than they have now – and they won’t have options that align with their religious faith.

“We have to decide who’s going to raise the children, what values are imparted to the children. That’s a very intimate decision for a parent to make. And what this bill is doing is taking a whole array of options right off the table, that they will not be able to accept,” Carroll said during the roundtable Wednesday. “… It’s putting religious institutions in a position in which, if they want to get the money, or to accept money that goes to parents, they have to enter a Faustian bargain in which they agree to basically give up their faith. In the Catholic Church, we have 2,000 years of Church teaching. We’re not giving it up to get federal money for child care or pre-K.”

NewBostonPost has published a transcript of Carroll’s remarks, available by clicking this link.

Sandra Jolly, early childhood principal at Westminster Catawba Christian School in Rock Hill, South Carolina, said the bill would threaten her school’s ability to compete while also sticking by its religious mission.

“The goal of affordable pre-K is wonderful. But parents must have the freedom to choose the education that they want for their children, and still receive equitable funding. This legislation eliminates religious protections for child care providers that have been in place for over 30 years. It allows the government to withhold funds from centers based on hiring practices and curricular decisions that align with our faith-based mission,” Jolly said during the GOP roundtable Wednesday. “We cannot be true to our mission without hiring teachers and staff that embrace our statements of faith and integrate those biblical principles throughout our instructional program.”

Supporters of the bill say the federal government ought to ensure that public money doesn’t promote discrimination.

“There’s a fundamental question around fairness and equal opportunity and commitment to being welcoming and inclusive. We are thankful that this is an opportunity for providers to find themselves called, whether through faith or whatever motivation, to serve all families,” said Liz King, director of the Education Equity Program at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, according to a story published Thursday, December 2 in The National Catholic Register.

Two Democratic U.S. House members sent U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a letter last month saying that while they welcome faith-based providers to participate in programs designed to address social needs, such providers should have to abide by federal non-discrimination standards.

“The Build Back Better Act must not allow government-funded discrimination — in employment or in the provision of services to participants — in publicly funded programs. We believe that allowing such discrimination financed with public funds collected from all taxpayers is wrong,” the letter states. “We are asking you to oppose any effort to remove or change the nondiscrimination provisions included in the childcare and universal preschool provisions of the Build Back Better Act … as well as any effort to expand exemptions from civil rights laws for religious providers that would permit any discrimination with public funds.”

The letter, which NewBostonPost has published in full, was signed by U.S. Representative Joyce Beatty of Ohio, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, and U.S. Representative Bobby Scott of Virginia, who is also a member of the caucus.

Supporters of the bill, while insisting on non-discrimination rules, also argue that critics are overstating the effects the bill would have on religions providers.

A portion of the bill, for instance, states:  “Nothing in this section shall preclude the use of such certificates for sectarian child care services if freely chosen by the parent.”

The National Catholic Register story quotes an unnamed U.S. House Democratic aide as saying:

“Meeting the demand for affordable child care and universal preschool is a major focus of the Build Back Better Act. Accordingly, the bill gives parents the flexibility to choose a provider that best fits their needs — including faith-based providers — and it ensures faith-based providers can receive grant funding to build their capacity. Faith-based providers are not just eligible for the funding in this proposal, they can be an important part of the solution for children and families.”

But one critic, Michael Deegan, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of New York, says he expects that regulations flowing from the bill would prevent Catholic schools from getting federal funds if they don’t comply with non-discrimination rules.

“It is so vague, that I feel that our opponents — meaning those who don’t want Catholic schools to get any federal funding — will find a way to prevent us from attaining this money,” Deegan said, according to The National Catholic Register.


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