States say Education Department is illegally diverting pandemic relief to private schools

States say Education Department is illegally diverting pandemic relief to private schools
© Greg Nash

A coalition of blue states sued the Department of Education on Tuesday, saying that coronavirus aid has been illegally diverted by department officials toward private schools, some of which have already received assistance during the pandemic.

The Associated Press reported that five states led by California Attorney General Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraClyburn: Biden falling short on naming Black figures to top posts Biden picks first Latino to lead Homeland Security House Hispanic Republicans welcome four new members MORE (D) and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) allege that the Education Department is using $13.2 billion in Title I funding set aside for low-income areas and attempting to distribute it based on total population, instead of targeting schools that need the aid the most.

The result, the attorneys general argue, is that some private schools that have already received aid through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which public schools are ineligible to use, will now get assistance twice, while some public schools are left starved for resources during the pandemic.


“Some of those private schools have already been able to access hundreds of billions of dollars from the CARES ACT Paycheck Protection Program unlike California public schools that can’t,” Becerra said, adding, “Today’s announcement is about stopping the Trump administration’s latest effort to steal from working families to give it to the very privileged."

California schools, according to Becerra, would lose out on more than $1.5 billion in funding as a result of the department's policy.

A spokeswoman for the Education Department maintained that Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosNational reading, math tests postponed to 2022 amid coronavirus surge Women set to take key roles in Biden administration America has a civic education problem — here's how to fix it MORE had been clear that aid should reach all students, including private school students, but did not comment on the states' lawsuit specifically.

“While the Department does not comment on pending litigation, 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. There is no reasonable explanation for debating the use of federal funding to serve both public and private K-12 students when federal funding, including CARES Act funding, flows to both public and private higher education institutions," said press secretary Angela Morabito.

Michigan's state schools superintendent, who attended a press conference announcing the lawsuit, outlined what the lost funding would do for Michigan's schools.

“This is enough to buy 63,694 Chromebooks for students at $259 per Chromebook, or to buy personal protective equipment for 33,944 students at $486 per student annually,” Michael Rice said, according to the AP.

“The U.S. Secretary of Education manufactured guidance and their rule that favored nonpublic schools at the expense of public schools in a way neither intended nor enacted by Congress,” he added.