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February 3, 2023
The Honorable Tom Vilsack
United States Secretary of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20250
Dear Secretary Vilsack:
We are writing to you on behalf of the National Coalition for Public School Options (PSO), and the hundreds of thousands of families across the country that have chosen a public virtual school for their children. During the pandemic, the Department of Agriculture agency utilized a multitude of waivers to help ensure that families and children had adequate access to food. As you know, access to food, specifically the programs overseen by your agency, are critical to the survival and sustenance of families throughout America.
During the pandemic it was demonstrated, through creativity and flexibility, that it is possible to provide critical food support to families who participate in public educational environments outside of a physical school building environment. One such program operated by the Ohio Department of Education allowed students and families to access food via the use of EBT cards (much like welfare programs nationwide).
Historically virtual school students have been excluded from this program, despite being public school students. Even during the pandemic, the department’s adopted rules relating to the definition that a school must be building-based would appear to exceed the statutory definition adopted by Congress:
(5) “School” means (A) any public or nonprofit private school of high school grade or under, and (B) any public or licensed nonprofit private residential child care institution (including, but not limited to, orphanages and homes for the mentally retarded, but excluding Job Corps Centers funded by the Department of Labor). For purposes of this paragraph, the term “nonprofit”, when applied to any such private school or institution, means any such school or institution which is exempt from tax under section 501(c)(3) of Title 26.
While we understand this rule (or a version of it) may well have pre-dated the proliferation of public virtual schools, literally hundreds of thousands of students have chosen these schools for their education. We ask for your consideration in providing support to these families, as many of them would indeed qualify based on need. In an era where families and children need flexibility for a variety of reasons, no child should be penalized for voluntarily participating in a public school environment allowed in nearly every state.
PSO Board President
PSO Board Vice President