House, Senate Education Leaders Call on DeVos to Abandon Guidance Robbing Public Schools of COVID-19 Relief Funding

May 21, 2020
Press Release

As originally released by the Committee on Education & Labor

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, in a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVosHouse and Senate education leaders called on the Education Department to rescind its “equitable service” guidance, which would redirect COVID-19 relief funding away from students in public schools to fund services for students in private schools, regardless of their wealth or residence. 

In the letter, House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (VA-03), Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions and Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), and Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Rosa DeLauro (CT-03) expressed deep concern over how the Department’s guidance would dilute emergency education funding that was intended for public schools under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

“The Department’s new policy will direct districts to allocate additional resources and services to wealthier private school students, thereby leaving a smaller amount of funds available to serve public school students,” the Members wrote. “[The guidance] seeks to repurpose hundreds-of-millions of taxpayer dollars intended for public school students to provide services for private school students, in contravention of both the plain reading of the statute and the intent of Congress.”

Under both federal education law and the CARES Act, school districts are required to use federal funding to provide equitable services only to disadvantaged students attending private schools in their district based on the number of low-income students attending private schools in their district. However, on April 30, the Department issued new guidance, in violation of the statutory requirements of the CARES Act, to increase the share of CARES Act relief funding that private schools would receive. 

The guidance states that school districts should allocate funding for equitable services based on the total number of private school students they serve, regardless of their wealth or where they live rather than the number of low-income students, as required by the CARES Act. The directive sparked widespread concerns among school leaders, including the School Superintendents Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. 

“Given that the guidance contradicts the clear requirements of the CARES Act, it will cause confusion among states and Local Education Agencies (LEAs) that will be uncertain of how to comply with both the Department’s guidance and the plain language of the CARES Act,” the Members wrote. We ask that you immediately revise your April 30 guidance…to conform with section 1117 of Elementary and Secondary Education Act as required by the CARES Act.”

The House-passed Heroes Act addresses Secretary DeVos’ efforts to siphon federal funding away from public schools by further clarifying that “equitable service” funding in the CARES Act is to be determined based on the number of low-income students attending private schools, consistent with section 1117 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It is disappointing that such action was necessary; however, Secretary DeVos has repeatedly made a point of exploiting the emergency relief legislation in order to advance her personal political agenda.

Read the full letter to Secretary DeVos here

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