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DEVOS RETREATS ON CARES ACT FUNDING RULE

In the face of negative rulings from three separate federal courts that had each  struck down a rule issued by the U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos regarding the distribution of funds to deal with the impact of Covid-19, the U.S. Department of Education announced last week that the rule is no longer in effect.

The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allocated $13 billion in emergency education funding to states to support school districts. The funding was allocated for things like sanitizing schools, purchasing educational technology and training teachers to use online tools.

Lawmakers from both parties said that most of the Cares Act’s K-12 education funding was intended to be distributed to public and private elementary and secondary schools using the long-established Title I distribution formula that is based on how many poor children they serve.  

But DeVos said she wanted money sent to private schools based on the total number of students in the school, not how many students from low-income families attended. That would have sent hundreds of millions of dollars more to private schools. 

On July 1, a rule from the Education Department took effect that it billed as a compromise, though critics said it was not much better than the original plan. Under the revised rule, the U.S. DOE gave states two options.  Under one, states would use private schools’ total enrollment to determine its share of a district’s funding. The other option would fund only low-income private school students, while also restricting CARES Act funding for public schools to low-income Title I-designated public schools, not to all schools.  Plaintiffs said that this second option was impossible to implement. It would prohibit districts from using federal aid to non-Title I designated schools where there are also many low-income students. And it would place undue restrictions on how Title I schools can use the money.

On September 4, 2020, Dabney L. Friedrich. U. S. District Court Judge for the District of Columbia (a Trump appointee) ordered that the rule be vacated because it clearly violated the law:  

Congress expressed a clear and unambiguous preference for apportioning funding to private schools based on the number of children from low-income families, even though the Department’s chosen alternative of equal funding was readily available at the time of drafting. In the end, it is difficult to imagine how Congress could have been clearer.

Friedrich was the third judge who ruled against DeVos on the rule. Two earlier cases were heard in Washington and California, and both judges put a hold on the implementation of the rule in limited areas of the country. Friedrich’s decision covered the entire country and ordered that the rule be vacated.

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