California Attorney General Xavier Becerra sued the Trump Education Department on Tuesday over its decision to make federal coronavirus relief funds readily available to private schools by supposedly applying the wrong standard on how money is appropriated.
The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act provided $13 billion in education funding to be distributed by local school districts. California was supposed to get about 1.5 billion.
According to the Federal Education Department, the money is supposed to go “toward services like cleaning, equipment to protect student and teacher health, teacher training in remote instruction, and distance education tools.
Becerra claims that the Department did an end run around congressional intent and that money intended for public schools is now going to be siphoned off to private educational bodies that don’t need it.
Becerra’s office said that as a result of the rules Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued, “tens of millions of dollars in California alone could be diverted away from taxpayer-funded public schools in our poorest school districts to private institutions — in violation of the requirements established by Congress, the Administrative Procedure Act, and the U.S. Constitution.”
Becerra said that “Again, and again, the Trump Administration takes action to steal from the poor and give to the rich.
“Whether it’s President Trump or Secretary DeVos, we won’t stand by when the education of our children or the rule of law is under threat. Congress set clear parameters on how to spend this money in order to confront the devastating effects of a pandemic on our schools. We’re going to court to make sure it ends up where it’s needed — the futures of our children are at stake.”
The lawsuit was joined by Michigan, Maine, New Mexico, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.
According to the Attorney General, the federal legislation allowed money to go for services to help low-income students at private schools. But the Department changed the game by making the school’s total population not the income of individual students the determining factor for aid.
“As part of the act, aid to K-12 schools is required to be distributed in line with Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (Title I). Title I funds are generally aimed at aiding children from low-income families across the country. Under the CARES Act, private schools are only eligible for funds in certain circumstances in line with Title I criteria. However, in direct contravention of Congressional intent, the Department’s interim final rule blows up the legislated mechanism by requiring the inclusion of private schools based on the total population they serve, instead of income as dictated by the CARES Act. Moreover, the Department admits that this rule allows private schools — with tuitions more akin to private colleges — to demand these emergency funds, leaving the poorest school districts with less.”
The lawsuit says the Department exceeded its authority and usurped the intent of Congress by implementing the rule.
In response to the lawsuit the Education Department said in a statement, “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.”