A rule issued by the Department of Education (DOE) will grant K-12 private schools a large share of the $13 billion of federal coronavirus aid provided by the CARES Act. The rule requires school districts to utilize one of two plans to distribute the funds. Districts must either only utilize the funds for low-income students, or distribute them equally among public and private schools according to the student population. The rule was enacted without public comment and is immediately legally binding due to its time-sensitive nature. Educators and lawmakers have criticized the rule, claiming that it diverts funds from the low-income students the funding was meant to support.
Under the new rule, if districts decide to utilize the aid solely to assist low-income students, they must allocate the funds based on the number of low-income students, as calculated by Title 1, in each public and private school. If schools decide to utilize this allocation scheme, the types of services they can use the money for could be drastically reduced. For example, schools may be unable to use the money for disinfecting purposes, since this would not only benefit low-income students. If districts instead want to utilize the money to help all students, they must provide “equitable services” for private schools in their district. It is projected that if districts apply this distribution model, the amount of aid private schools will receive will increase from $127 million to $1.35 billion.
The rule was released two months after the DOE published non-binding guidance on how districts should allocate their CARES Act funds. The guidance was similar to the rule, although it did not provide an option for solely utilizing the money to help low-income students. The guidance received a large amount of criticism, with the Indiana Education Chief vowing to not comply with it. The final rule continues Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ history of advocating for private schools. She has been a long-time supporter of school voucher programs and has partnered with Vice President Pence to create tax credits for scholarships to private universities.
Lawmakers have commented that the rule goes against the intention of Congress when they wrote the CARES Act. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), and Rep Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) argued that the rule “seeks to repurpose hundreds-of-millions of taxpayer dollars intended for public school students to provide services for private school students, in contravention of both the plain reading of the statute and the intent of Congress.”
Educators have criticized the rule, with the Executive Director of the Council of Chief State School Officers commenting that it “could significantly harm the vulnerable students.” Daniel Domenech, Executive Director of AASA (the School Superintendents Association) accused DeVos of “using the pandemic environment to advance the privatization agenda” and called the rule an “opportunistic money grab.”
Sources: National Public Radio 6/25/20; U.S. Department of Education 6/25/20; Learning Policy Institute 6/10/20; ABC News 6/25/20; USA Today 6/25/20; Congressional Letter 5/20/20; CCSSO Letter 5/5/20; AASA 6/25/20