Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is calling on public institutions to share funding from the CARES Act to help private schools.
“The CARES Act is a special, pandemic-related appropriation to benefit all American students, teachers and families,” DeVos wrote in a letter to the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). “There is nothing in the act suggesting Congress intended to discriminate between children based on public or nonpublic school attendance, as you seem to do. The virus affects everyone.”
DeVos claims in the letter that “a growing list of nonpublic schools have announced they will not be able to reopen, and these school closures are concentrated in low-income and middle-class communities.”
According to The New York Times, a previous guidance from DeVos asking to divert aid money to wealthy private schools was rejected by several states and local school districts.
Per federal education law, school districts are required to use funding intended for their poorest students to provide “equitable services,” according to the Times. DeVos argues that the relief aid is not limited by those provisions.
DeVos reportedly accused state education leaders of having a “reflex to share as little as possible with students and teachers outside of their control,” and said she would draft a rule that would make her guidance mandatory and “resolve any issues in plenty of time for the next school year.”
Last week, Democrats on the Senate and House education committees said DeVos’s interpretation was incorrect.
“This interpretation expands the amount of funding that [s local educational agencies] must dedicate to providing equitable services to private school students, reduces public school students’ share of funds, defies Congressional intent, and conflicts with the statutory requirements of the CARES Act,” the lawmakers wrote.
The Times writes that private school leaders, who serve about 5.7 million of the nation’s children, say they, too, are in crisis. Enrollment and tuition revenues are plunging along with philanthropic donations and church collections that help some religious schools operate. Many of those schools serve low-income students whose parents have fled failing public schools. Private school groups say 30 percent of the families they serve have annual incomes below $75,000, and those families are most at-risk without federal aid.