WASHINGTON D.C. — A federal judge has ruled that U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos violated the language of the CARES Act by issuing a rule that would divert relief money from public schools for the benefit of private ones.
DeVos and the U.S. Department of Education issued the regulation in June, claiming it would “ensure all students whose learning was impacted by COVID-19 are served equitably” by CARES Act funds, no matter where they attended school.
In July, the NAACP filed a lawsuit on behalf of some plaintiff families that have children enrolled in public schools in states including Maryland, North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, Florida, Tennessee, Nevada, Mississippi, Washington, D.C. as well as Alabama.
The lawsuit argued DeVos’ interim final rule would drastically decrease the COVID-19 resources provided to support public school children and historically underserved populations during the pandemic.
Benard Simelton, President of the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, said that would be especially true in Alabama’s public schools.
“Our schools are already devastated by COVID-19, and the CARES Act funding is supposed to help those schools who really need the funding,” he explained. “It’s supposed to take care of those situations whether that be additional laptops or sanitation items for the schools.”
The CARES Act directs public school districts to calculate the money they must set aside for private schools based on the number of low income students enrolled in those private schools. Simelton said that means DeVos’ plan was flawed from the start.
“Much of that funding would have gone to private schools, at same rate as the number of students in those schools rather than based on the percentage of underserved, underprivileged children in the private schools,” Simelton explained.
The NAACP argued DeVos’ rule coerced school districts to use an illegal process to inflate the amount of COVID-19 relief funding they must share with private schools.
In a news release, the NAACP explained that under DeVos’ rule, public school districts would be “diverting more funding for ‘equitable services’ to private school students than the law requires or face onerous restrictions on the use of those funds in their public schools.” The NAACP said both options violated the clear language of the CARES Act.
In her ruling, Judge Friedrich said Congress was clear about how the CARES Act money was to be allocated amongst schools and DeVos’ interim final rule was the complete opposite of that.
Because DeVos proposed a federal regulation, the court’s ruling granted a nationwide termination of the rule.