ED has an Obligation to Direct Funding to Children who Need it Most

August 12, 2020 | National

The Children’s Defense Fund recently joined 53 other civil rights nonprofits in calling on the U.S. Department of Education to withdraw an interim final rule that would require school districts to divert more COVID-19 relief funds to private school students under the CARES Act than is actually required—or intended—under the law.

From the letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos:

“Without a doubt, COVID-19 will have lasting effects for many decades to come. There is an opportunity and a responsibility to minimize the harm to the next generation. Long term closures of early childhood settings, K12 schools, and college campuses – all necessary to protect the safety and health of communities – have significantly exacerbated long-standing inequities in our educational system. Low-income children, children of color, children with disabilities, English learners, and Native children have been left behind for far too long and deserve no less than robust and thorough federal policy to ensure an excellent and equitable education for all students. Leadership and action from federal leaders can, and must, minimize the harm to marginalized students as long as COVID-19 continues to threaten the public health and economic well-being of families.”

This careless rule neglects the clear intent of the CARES Act passed in March, that so-called “equitable services” funds should be spent on non-public school students in the same manner as the normal distribution of Title I funds, which is that districts would take into account the household income of the children in those private schools and distribute more funding to private schools with more economic need. Instead, this rule would take funds from lower-income communities to subsidize wealthier communities. In fact, an assessment from the Learning Policy Institute found that school districts would provide an additional $1.35 billion to private schools beyond what is required in the law—and that’s approximately 10 percent of all CARES Act funding for K12 schools.

Congress made it clear when they passed the CARES Act that they intended to prioritize students facing the greatest barriers to educational success, including those who were already marginalized before the pandemic and those whose communities have been hit hardest. Public schools are already going to be extremely hard-pressed to provide the services that children will need this fall and beyond, and they are in dire need of substantial additional Congressional support. It is imperative that the funding Congress has already allocated to K12 schools reach the students who need it most.