DeVos Would Send Millions of Federal Dollars to Private Schools

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks during a 2018 student town hall at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Secretary of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is planning to funnel tens of millions of dollars of federal coronavirus aid to private schools, most of which have religious affiliations.

In its $2 trillion pandemic relief package in March, known as the CARES Act, Congress allocated more than $13 billion for schools.

Law requires states to divide federal Title I funding among public schools based on the number and share of low-income students they teach and to use part of the money to provide services to low-income students who attend private schools. 

Roughly 10% of U.S. K–12 students attend private schools, 78% of which have religious affiliations, according to the Council for American Private Education.

But DeVos issued new guidelines on April 30, instructing public schools to divide the coronavirus relief funds based on the total number of students at local private schools — not just students in low-income families.

Some of the services granted through Title 1 funding include transportation and tutoring. 

According to an Associated Press report, DeVos intends to write the new policy into federal rules “in the next few weeks.”

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) is among the groups that took issue with the proposal.

In a letter to Devos sent May 5, the group said it could “significantly harm the vulnerable students who were intended to benefit the most from the critical federal Covid-19 education relief funds Congress has provided.

“The effect would be that non-public schools would receive an inequitable amount of funding, much more federal support than Congress intended, or LEAs [local education agencies] anticipated based upon the CARES statute,” CCSSO Executive Director Carissa Moffat Miller wrote. Miller asked DeVos to clarify the April 30 announcement.

DeVos disagreed. 

“For the record, we believe your membership fundamentally misunderstands the statutory text mandating equitable services. The CARES Act is a special, pandemic-related appropriation to benefit all American students, teachers, and families,” she wrote in response on May 22, “There is nothing in the Act suggesting Congress intended to discriminate between children based on public or non-public school attendance, as you seem to do.”

In the letter, DeVos told Miller that the CARES Act’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund is not a Title I program, even though Congress used a Title 1 formula to distribute resources to schools. 

DeVos wrote that she understands public schools’ “reflex to share as little as possible with students and teachers outside of their control,” but added, “I would remind states and LEAs that their non-public school peers have also been overwhelmed by Covid-19. All students and teachers have had their learning disrupted.”

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