AFT objects to Betsy DeVos formula on CARES Act funding sent to private schools

Texas private schools could receive millions of more dollars regardless of how many low-income students they are serving

The American Federation of Teachers this week joined 48 other public education advocacy groups to object to a significant error in the way U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wants to apportion federal aid to schools during the pandemic.​

AFT and the groups sent a letter​ detailing the objections—all based on law and precedent—to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy Devos’ plan that could give private schools significantly more money from the CARES Act, which totalled more than $16 billion to all states to support schools. The issue at hand is what’s called “equitable services,” a longstanding provision of federal law that mandates public schools to provide services—everything from tutoring and transportation to special education services and teacher professional development—to private-school students. The formula for those equitable services primarily is based on the number of low-income students residing in the district’s boundaries, akin to how Title I funding is distributed. Instead, DeVos is basing the funding​ on the total number of all students overall, which would dramatically increase the share that private schools receive.

As the groups stated in the letter: “To be clear, we strongly supported the CARES Act with equitable services provisions included and believe that eligible students in non-public schools should receive additional support through the CARES Act. What we don’t believe is that all students, at any non-public school, regardless of their family’s wealth or the size of their school’s endowment, should generate funding help in the same way as disadvantaged students, particularly when that aid comes at the cost of those less advantaged children.”

As NPR reported, “In Louisiana, under the low-income student formula, the state Department of Education​ reports private school students would receive services worth $8.6 million of the state’s CARES Act relief money. Under the [Betsy DeVos’] broader interpretation, that share would jump to $31.5 million — a 267% increase.”

The CARES Act relief funding for schools was intended to support vulnerable, low-income students, and yes, that includes those at private schools. Unfortunately, if the current guidance from the U.S. Education Department stands, Betsy DeVos will have succeeded in promoting one pillar of her ongoing agenda to transfer public money to private schools, while also robbing public schools of their fair share.