SAN FRANCISCO (AP)
- The U.S. Department of Education is attempting to take pandemic relief
funds away from K-12 public schools and divert the money to private schools,
California and four other Democratic-led states argued in a lawsuit filed
Tuesday against the Trump administration.
General Xavier Becerra and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced
the lawsuit, which was joined by Maine, New Mexico, Wisconsin and the
District of Columbia. The suit also names Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as
Becerra said the
department unlawfully interpreted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic
Security Act, which established guidelines to distribute $13.2 billion in
aid to schools nationwide using Title I funds earmarked for students from
interpretation will instead allow school districts to get funds based on
their total student population, leading tens of millions of dollars to be
diverted from public schools in the poorest districts to private
institutions with tuition similar to that charged by private colleges, the
On a call Monday
with Vice President Mike Pence and the nation’s governors, DeVos said
governors have not taken advantage of the funding and so far only $195
million has been used.
Under the rule
issued by DeVos, school districts are ordered to set aside a portion of
their aid for private schools using a formula based on the total number of
private school students in the district.
The policy has been
contested by public school officials who say the funding should be shared
based on the number of low-income students at local private schools rather
than their total enrollments. That’s how funding is shared with private
schools under other federal rules that Congress referenced in the
legislation creating the relief aid.
But DeVos has said
the funding is separate from other federal aid and was meant to support all
He said the rule
undermines the intent of Congress and violates the separation of powers as
established by the U.S. Constitution.
It could put some
of $1.6 billion allocated for California public schools at risk, he said.
Becerra said it is
not that private schools are ineligible for relief funds, but he said
Congress called for those funds to be distributed on the basis of need.
“Some of those
private schools have already been able to access hundreds of billions of
dollars from the CARES ACT Paycheck Protection Program unlike California
public schools that can’t,” he said.
officials said the rule could cost public schools at least $16 million,
including $2.6 million each in Detroit, the state’s largest district, and
Grand Rapids, where DeVos has roots.
“All students in
this country deserve an equal chance at an education. That’s why we cannot
and will not sit on the sidelines while critical funding specifically
allocated based on low-income status is allowed to be re-allocated by
counting students who have privileges and resources already available to
them,” said Nessel, who announced the lawsuit at a news conference alongside
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and state superintendent Michael Rice.
Rice said nonpublic
schools in Michigan are entitled to $5.1 million under the relief law but
would get $21.6 million under one of two options outlined under DeVos’
“This is enough to
buy 63,694 Chromebooks for students at $259 per Chromebook, or to buy
personal protective equipment for 33,944 students at $486 per student
annually,” Rice said.
“The U.S. Secretary
of Education manufactured guidance and their rule that favored nonpublic
schools at the expense of public schools in a way neither intended nor
enacted by Congress,” he said.
Republican Party and an association of nonpublic schools criticized the
lawsuit. So did the Great Lakes Education Project, a Michigan group
co-founded by DeVos long before she became education secretary.
did not discriminate based on the kind of schools Michigan kids attend, and
neither did the governor’s executive order shuttering every school building
in the state,” said executive director Beth DeShone. She accused Michigan
leaders of attempting “to discriminate against and strip emergency funding
from kids in the midst of a global pandemic, based simply on the schools
their parents have chosen.”