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NAACP Sues ED For ‘Robbing’ Public Schools of Coronavirus Funding

July 23, 2020 by Gaspard Le Dem
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

WASHINGTON – The NAACP is adding its voice to a broad legal challenge of a rule by the U.S. Department of Education that diverts COVID-19 relief aid away from public schools to benefit private education. 

The powerful civil rights organization on Wednesday filed a federal lawsuit in Washington, D.C., alleging that Secretary of Education Betsy Devos illegally modified rules on the distribution of money from the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) to private K-12 schools. 

The complaint, filed on behalf of more than a dozen students and families, alleges that Devos abused her authority by misinterpreting the CARES Act to force school districts to spend more relief money on private schools.

“Amid a national health crisis, Education Secretary Besty DeVos is robbing public school children of desperately needed relief and diverting it to private schools,” said Derrick Johnson, president of NAACP, in a statement on Wednesday. “This is a new low, even for an administration intent on promoting inequality in education.”

The CARES Act allocated $13.5 billion in emergency funding for public schools affected by the pandemic, specifying that school districts should set money aside for private schools “in the same manner” as described by Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. 

Under that statute, school districts must distribute grants to public schools — and to some eligible private schools — based on the number of lower-income students they serve.

But on July 1, the Department of Education issued an interim final rule ordering school districts to allocate CARES Act money based on total enrollment at private schools instead, adding that school districts that don’t comply would face spending restrictions.

The rule was immediately denounced by public school districts and advocates across the country. In its lawsuit, the NAACP alleges that the Department of Education “failed to consider the impact of the rule on economically vulnerable students and students of color.”

“COVID-19 has magnified the hardships for children from low-income households and diminished access to quality instruction, digital technology, nutrition, social development, and other vital resources,” Johnson continued. “These are consequences that will last a lifetime.” 

Several states are already suing Devos in a bid to block the ED’s rule from being enforced. The attorneys general from California, Michigan, Maine, New Mexico, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia filed a joint complaint against Devos on July 7 in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California. 

At a press conference, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said that Devos’ rule amounted to “a shakedown of low-income schools across the country.”

“Again, and again, the Trump Administration takes action to steal from the poor and give to the rich,” Becerra said in a statement. “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.”

The NAACP lawsuit says that shifting CARES Act funding towards for-profit education allows private schools to double-up on federal aid, while leaving cash-strapped public schools in the lurch.

Both private and charter schools are eligible for forgivable loans from the Small Business Administration under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

Some of the nation’s most elite private schools, like Sidwell Friends in Washington, D.C., have received millions of dollars in PPP money, according to a ProPublica database.

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