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Public education groups claimed a victory Friday in a months-long dispute with the Trump administration over the share of federal pandemic relief for private schools.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos won’t appeal a Sept. 4 U.S. district court judge’s decision that found she illegally directed states to divert CARES Act money from public schools to private schools. DeVos notified state school chiefs of the decision in a letter.
“The Department strongly, but respectfully, disagrees with the ruling,” she wrote. “However, we respect the rule of law and will enforce the law as the courts have opined.”
The Covid-19 pandemic created enormous costs for K-12 schools, including new spending on remote learning resources as well as personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies for campuses. The CARES Act (Public Law 116-136) provided $13.5 billion for those schools, of which 90% would be awarded based on federal Title I funding for low-income schools.
DeVos released guidance instructing school districts to share pandemic aid with private schools based on the total number of students they enroll, not just low-income students. When several states announced they would disregard the guidance, she issued a binding rule in June that prompted multiple legal challenges.
$1 Billion at Stake
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said the Education Department’s attempt to boost aid to private schools ignored the clear language of the law.
“While I am pleased that the Department has finally agreed to comply with the law, I am profoundly frustrated that it took several months and three federal court rulings for Secretary DeVos to simply implement the CARES Act as it was written,” he said in a statement.
The DeVos guidance would have boosted CARES Act funding for private schools by $1.35 billion, an analysis from the Learning Policy Institute found. Her rule would have allowed public school districts to share funds with private schools based on the number of low-income students they enrolled. Districts would have been required to limit pandemic aid to their own low-income schools.
DeVos told the state education chiefs Friday that the Education Department wouldn’t act against states that followed the previous guidance or regulations put out before the court ruling.
DeVos’s latest decision means states can move forward with carrying out the law and getting additional money to schools, said Noelle Ellerson Ng, the associate executive director for advocacy and governance at AASA, the School Superintendents Association.
The June rule “unnecessarily complicated the rollout of CARES funding,” she said. “It delayed and complicated the work to reopen schools—the very thing the administration said they wanted to work on.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Kreighbaum in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org