NAACP sues DeVos over CARES Act aid rule change that would give more money to private schools

The NAACP is suing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over a pending rule change to CARES Act funding that would require the country’s public school districts to give private schools more relief aid provided by the multitrillion-dollar coronavirus stimulus package.

The complaint, which was filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, alleges that DeVos illegally changed the parameters under which the $13.2 billion Congress allocated for the nation’s schools is distributed. The money is part of a larger fund known as the Education Stabilization Fund that was created when President Trump signed the CARES Act into law in late March.

Lawmakers structured the disbursement system for the funds in same way federal funding is annually awarded to school districts meant to help low-income students. This type of funding is known at Title I funding.

Part of federal education law mandates that when a school district receives federal funding for its poorest students, it is required to fund “equitable services,” such as transportation and tutoring, for low-income students who attend private schools within the district.

For example, if 10 percent of a school district’s low-income students attend private schools, then 10 percent of the district’s Title I funding must go to provide “equitable services” to those students.

However, DeVos, a staunch champion of private schools, sought to change the rule. Instead of funding based on how many low-income students private schools have, the secretary changed the rule to base amount of funds off of the total percentage of students in the district that private schools educate, regardless of their income level.

In a guidance about the “interim final rule,” which took effect July 1, the department said, “The pandemic has harmed all our Nation’s students by disrupting their education. Nothing in the CARES Act suggests Congress intended to differentiate between students based upon the public or non-public nature of their school with respect to eligibility for relief.”

The NAACP’s lawsuit lambasts the rule in the lawsuit, saying that it “is as immoral as it is illegal.”

“You literally accelerate robbing from the poor to benefit the rich,” Derrick Johnson, NAACP national president and CEO, told ABC News.

He added: “She’s trying to increase allocation disproportionately for private schools over public schools in the midst of the debate over whether or not schools should reopen. It’s horrific what she’s doing. What will happen is you further take money away from children who are financially in need to benefit high-wealth children.”

School officials across the country have also pushed back against the rule change since it was announced at the end of April. 

The Council of Chief State School Officers said in a May 5 letter to DeVos that under her rule change, nonpublic schools in Louisiana would receive “at least 267% more funding under the Department’s suggested approach than they would if [U.S. Education Department] were to interpret equitable services as required under CARES.”

Jennifer McCormick (R), Indiana’s superintendent of public instruction, signaled in a May 12 tweet that the state wouldn’t follow DeVos’s rule change.

“IN will distribute funds according to Congressional intent and a plain reading of the law,” she said. “I will not play political agenda games with COVID relief funds. Our most at-risk students depend on this commitment.”

The Hill has reached out to the Education Department and the NAACP.

Tags Betsy DeVos Betsy DeVos Donald Trump Education Department Lawsuit NAACP NAACP Private Schools Title I funding U.S. public schools
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