DeVos rule on CARES Act opposed by many

A new rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Education would require some school districts to change the way they distribute federal CARES Act funding. Public education advocates say the rule penalizes public schools and favors private ones. The Department disagrees, stating the rule ensures all students are served by CARES Act dollars.  

The Interim Final Rule on Equitable Services to Students and Teachers in Non-Public Schools released on June 25 gives public school districts options for distributing the federal funding that many education advocates say is counter to Congressional intent.  

The rule takes effect immediately and has the effect of law, but legal action to overturn it is considered likely. 

The U.S. Department of Education’s equitable services Interim Final Rule regarding the CARES Act would cause greater disparities among schools and communities, and it would harm students who need more support to succeed in school. As school district leaders are engaged in COVID-19 recovery efforts, we need to do everything we can to help students most in need,” said National School Boards Association Executive Director & CEO Anna Maria Chávez.  

Dan Domenech, the Executive Director of AASA-the Superintendents Association called the rule “an opportunistic money grab” that advances privatization of schools. 

Education advocates reported that in a conference call Monday with reporters and others, Department of Education Assistant Secretary James Blew said school districts have a choice: “Are we only going to serve our low-income students, or are we going to serve all our students?” Blew also said he anticipated a lawsuit to overturn the rule and speculated Congress might try to reverse it as well. 

As reported in Education Week (emphasis added by KASB) 

A district can decide to distribute the CARES money only to schools that received Title I for the 2019-20 school year —essentially, those schools with a minimum share of students from low-income backgrounds. 

  • If districts choose to distribute aid only to Title I schools, they can use two options to calculate how much money they set aside for equitable services: They can use the same amount for equitable services they set aside for the 2019-20 school year; or they can conduct a count of low-income students in local private schools to determine the proportional share. 
  • If a district distributes aid only to Title I schools, it can’t use the CARES money to backfill cuts at the state and local level. That could create a very big incentive for districts not to spend CARES money only on Title I schools, given the huge budget cuts many districts are facing.
  • But if a district distributes CARES aid to schools that didn’t receive Title I in 2019-20, then it must calculate the amount it must set aside for equitable services using a count of all local students enrolled in private schools in the district.

In Kansas and nationwide, public schools typically serve many more disadvantaged students than do private schools. And the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is sufficiently widespread to theoretically prompt school leaders to consider using the CARES Act to help non-Title I schools. 

The CARES Act became law in late March. It directs funding for K-12 schools be distributed based on the Title I formula which serves disadvantaged students. Under that formula, if a public-school district provides “equitable services” to a local private school (such as tutoring or access to technology licenses), those services would only be provided to low-income, private school students. 

KASB is studying the new rule. 

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