California and a handful of other states are challenging a U.S. Education Department rule that could funnel millions in coronavirus relief to private schools.
The lawsuit argues the rule unlawfully and erroneously interprets the federal CARES Act, part of which allocated more than $13 billion for public K-12 schools under Title I, a program to distribute funding to districts with low-income and disadvantaged students.
“These are funds from Congress that are largely meant to help our neediest schools confront the effects of an ongoing pandemic,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “Congress made it very clear that this money is meant to give states the flexibility to distribute these resources as necessary and not be subjected to onerous or arbitrary regulations.”
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued the rule June 25, arguing for equitable distribution of the relief dollars. The policy outlined how districts should distribute CARES Act funding to private schools based on student populations.
Under the new rules, if districts use CARES money for all students, not just low-income students, they must pay for "equitable services" for private schools. Otherwise they can instead provide services just for low-income students, but public school advocates say that is unworkable for many districts.
The Education Department would not comment on the litigation but said in a statement: “The Secretary has said many times, this pandemic affected all students, and the CARES Act requires that funding should be used to help all students.”
Becerra acknowledged the pandemic has affected all schools. But he argued “those with the fewest resources have less ways to confront the challenges, and Secretary DeVos knows that.”
California Superintendent Tony Thurmond applauded the lawsuit and said California’s public schools stand to lose tens of millions of dollars in aid that could be used to provide meals or improve distance learning for low-income students.
Attorneys general in Michigan, Wisconsin, Maine, New Mexico and the District of Columbia signed onto the legal challenge, which was filed Tuesday in federal court.
Becerra called the rule “the Trump administration’s latest effort to steal from working families and give it to the very privileged.” He said any struggling private schools could have applied for relief under the federal Paycheck Protection Program, another federal relief program aimed at helping businesses and nonprofits.
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