House Education & Labor Committee: “The Department’s rule is both substantively and procedurally improper and will divert precious resources from the nation’s public schools that serve 90 percent of all students and 99 percent of low-income students.”
In a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, House and Senate education leaders called on the Education Department to rescind its “equitable service” interim final rule, 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 Ranking Member 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 interim final rule ignores the clear intent of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in order to divert emergency education funding away from public schools students.
Under both the text of the CARES Act and federal education law, school districts are required to calculate federal funding for services to private school students based on the number of low-income private school students in the district. However, on April 30, the Department issued guidance in an attempt to force school districts to calculate the share of money for services to private school students based on the total number of private school students in the district, regardless of wealth, while still calculating the distribution for public schools based on the number of low-income students they serve.
After multiple states announced intent to ignore the guidance, the Department codified its unlawful interpretation and issued an interim final rule. The rule establishes options not authorized by the CARES Act, either follow the original guidance and divert an estimated $1.35 billion in emergency grant aid from public schools to serve wealthier private school students, or retain those funds but cut off many of their public schools, teachers, and students in those schools from the aid.
“The Department’s rule is both substantively and procedurally improper and will divert precious resources from the nation’s public schools that serve 90 percent of all students and 99 percent of low-income students. In the interest of the nations’ students, educators, and public schools, we call on the Department to immediately rescind this rule and all related guidance, allowing states and LEAs to implement the law as written,” the Members wrote.
The Department’s evolving interpretation of the law has caused widespread confusion and delayed relief to school districts and schools that desperately need it. As of July 9, just four percent of $16.1 billion in CARES Act funding that can be used for K-12 education has been spent, only covering a portion of unanticipated costs and lost revenues associated with the pandemic. “The Department has repeatedly insisted that stakeholders from both political parties and a wide range of constituencies all misunderstand the law, while only the Department sees it clearly. However, the Department’s actions caused considerable confusion for states and LEAs and slowed down their emergency response efforts,” the Members wrote. “It is time the Department recognize it has made a mistake and move forward appropriately. Accordingly, we request you immediately rescind this rule and all associated guidance, allowing states to comply with the CARES Act as Congress wrote it.”
Both the House-passed Heroes Act and the Senate Democratic proposal, the Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act, address 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.