DeVos plans to force public schools to share aid with individuals

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Ms. DeVos announced the measure in a letter to the Council of Heads of Public Schools, which represents state education leaders, defending her position on how education funds come from the law on education. Aid, relief, and economic security for coronaviruses, or the CARES law, should be spent.

“The CARES law is a special allocation linked to a pandemic for the benefit of all American students, teachers and families,” she wrote in the letter on Friday. “There is nothing in the law to suggest that Congress intends to discriminate against children based on public or non-public school attendance, as you seem to be doing. The virus affects everyone. “

Various education officials have said that DeVos’ advice would divert millions of dollars from disadvantaged students and force districts to run out of tax revenue during an economic crisis to support even the wealthiest private schools. The association representing school principals across the country has told districts to ignore the guidelines, and at least two states – Indiana and Maine – have said they will.

DeVos accused state education officials of having “a reflex to share as little as possible with students and teachers beyond their control” and said she would draft a rule codifying her position for ” resolve any issues in a timely manner for the next school year. The proposed rule should go through a public consultation process before it can take effect.

Heads of private schools, which serve about 5.7 million children across the country, say they too are in crisis. Income from registrations and tuition fees plunges with philanthropic donations and church collections that help some religious schools to function. Many of these schools accommodate low-income students whose parents have fled failed public schools. Groups of private schools claim that 30% of the families they serve have an annual income of less than $ 75,000, and that these families are most at risk without federal assistance. The

“I don’t understand why we have to choose winners and losers when all we are asking for is to help children and families,” said Jennifer Daniels, Deputy Director of Public Policy for the Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States. United.

Under the Federal Education Act, school districts are required to use funds intended for their poorest students to provide “equitable services”, such as tutoring and transportation, to low-income students who attend private schools in their district. But DeVos maintains that the coronavirus rescue law does not limit funding to poor students only, and her counsel would provide private schools with more services than the law would normally require.

Democratic leaders called on Ms. DeVos to revise her guidelines, which they said “would reallocate hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars intended for public school students to provide services to private school students, in violation of both clear reading of the law and the intention of Congress. ”

Carissa Moffat Miller, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, said the organization believed that the secretary’s advice “could do significant harm to vulnerable students who were expected to benefit most from federal critical humanitarian aid funds Covid- 19 provided by Congress. . ”

In her letter, DeVos said “a growing list of non-public schools has announced that they cannot reopen, and these school closings are concentrated in low-income and middle-class communities. “

The leaders of some religious communities say that they cannot use public education.

“It is unthinkable for us not to give our children a Jewish education, in the same way that it is unthinkable for us not to observe the Sabbath or kosher food laws – this is fundamental for Jewish life”, said Rabbi Abba Cohen, vice president. president for federal affairs at Agudath Israel of America, one of the groups that signed the letter.

Among the schools closed was the Cristo Rey Newark High School, which is part of a network of 37 Catholic preparatory schools across the country that serve exclusively low-income students.

“My concern is that people paint this with a very large brushstroke based on the assumption that Catholic and private means fantasy and dear, and this is not the case,” said Elizabeth Goettl, president of the Cristo Rey network. .

Of the 12,000 students in the network, 98% are students of color, and all come from a financially disadvantaged family, said Goettl. Only 10% of school operating revenues come from tuition fees, and each family pays what they can on a sliding scale, on average about $ 900 a year, although some pay as little as $ 20 a month.

Fifty percent of the school’s operating revenues come from a work-study program that could be affected by the economic impact of the pandemic. Companies employ students in entry-level jobs, and students use their salaries to pay their tuition fees.

“They literally earn their education at 14, which is remarkable in itself,” she said. “The fact that the federal government says we are not going to help your children disinfect or do everything that needs to be done with Covid seems reprehensible.”

“When all is said and done, people will try to do the right thing and not try to choose the students we are not going to keep safe,” said Michael Schuttloffel, executive director of the Council for American Private Education.

Groups of private schools lobbying Congress say mass closings would also hurt public schools. If 20% of students in private schools were to be absorbed into the public school system, it would cost the public system about $ 15 billion, according to estimates by these groups.

Public school groups have said the argument proves their point.

“I think this is further evidence that we need to focus on public education, because if public education is not fully funded, there is no alternative,” said Maggie Garrett , co-chair of the National Coalition for Public Education, which represents more than 50 national organizations that oppose private school vouchers.

Ruth Arias, an Amazon warehouse worker and single mother of five in New York, said that getting her children back to school in their neighborhood would mean getting them “out of where they feel best.” and place them in a school system where they fall apart. “

With the help of an organization called the Children’s Scholarship Fund, Arias said she had enrolled her children in a private Christian school to “believe in something better.”

Arias was battling coronavirus last month when she saw that the city’s education department would help students get iPads for distance learning.

Having only a computer and a cell phone to share with her children, she was relieved – until she was told that her children’s private education made them ineligible.

“Honestly, I had a thought,” she said, “that I had a lot when I was dealing with the public school system: are you kidding?”

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