Home > Uncategorized > DeVos Doubles Down on Distribution of Dollars to Non-Public Schools

DeVos Doubles Down on Distribution of Dollars to Non-Public Schools

June 26, 2020

Given three times as much money to spend as Arne Duncan received for his misguided Race to the Top initiative, and given a widening gap between the children raised in affluence and those raised in poverty, one would hope that the US Secretary of Education would use the windfall of federal funds to help close the funding gap created by the disparity in wealth. But with Betsy DeVos at the helm and the GOP still in control in the Senate, that is not going to happen. Instead, according to Cory Turner’s NPR report, Ms DeVos has developed two options for public schools that AASA ED Dan Domenech describes as “…an opportunistic money grab, using the pandemic environment to advance the privatization agenda.”

The NPR report describes the two choices given to public schools as follows:

Option 1: If a district wants to spend the money on interventions that will reach all students — not just low-income students — it must also pay for “equitable services,” such as tutoring or transportation, for all private school students in that district.

This is a hotly disputed interpretation of the CARES Act that would force public schools to put hundreds of millions of dollars toward private school services. According to an analysis by the Learning Policy Institute, this reading of the law would increase private schools’ share of CARES Act dollars from $127 million to $1.5 billion.

Option 2: A district can instead choose to focus its share of CARES Act money on low-income students. In this case, it would only need to provide equitable services for private schools based on how many low-income students those schools serve.

While the second option appears to favor low-income students, public school advocates say this alternative is onerous and unworkable for many districts. Some under-resourced schools would be left out, they say, because under the new rule, the money can only go to schools that received federal Title I dollars in the 2019-20 school year. But not all schools that are eligible for Title I aid ultimately receive it, due to funding limitations.

Clearly Ms. DeVos’ “choice” is really no choice at all, especially given that the public schools’ business offices are already stretched thin in trying to develop alternative plans for reopening. The second option, which is clearly more beneficial for low income students, requires onerous paperwork while the first option, which directs over a billion dollars to private schools, requires a simple calculation, the cutting of checks to private schools based on that calculation, and a slug of federal funds that can effectively be used however the district chooses. How so, when a district is given the opportunity to “…spend the money on interventions that will reach all students” they can use those funds to underwrite the costs they incurred to provide remote learning (which are clearly “interventions that will reach all students”) which, in turn, will relieve them of paying for those unforeseen costs with their operating budget. That, in turn, will give the districts the funds they will need to prepare schools for the 2020-21 reopening. That sounds like a reasonable way to use the CARES funds… but the hitch is that in order to use the funds in that fashion the public schools need to funnel millions to private schools— millions that COULD have been used to provide additional support for children on the wrong side of the digital divide.

The net effect: the poor and underserved students on the wrong side of the digital divide suffer even more and the shareholders who operate privatized charters get relief from the federal government.

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