While students all across the country finish out their school year from home, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was quietly taking actions to prop up private schools – and her stealthy moves may end up hurting public education.
DeVos kicked off a $180 million grant program that will allow money from the coronavirus stimulus bill to be accessed by states if they apply for the grant with plans to provide for students’ needs. There are three categories available for the competitive grant program and one of them would help families pay for various educational expenses, and yes, private school tuition would be covered by those “microgrants.”
DeVos also provided guidelines for how another portion of education funds from the stimulus bill should be used. The guidelines say that funds should not only target public schools that are clearly in need based on the amount of poor students they have enrolled, but should also be doled out to affluent private schools, too. Obviously critics say that this takes much needed money directly from public schools at a crucial time during the widespread closures.
DeVos has spent a good portion of her time as Education Secretary trying to push private schools and their success and critics are saying that her latest moves will ultimately come at the cost of public schools.
Sasha Pudelski, the advocacy director of the School Superintendents Association, said, “I can’t think of another week where she’s had two major victories like this, in terms of redirecting federal resources to private schools.”
Pudelski maintains that through the microgrants program, DeVos is redirecting public funds and using them for private schools.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) say the microgrants are really just “vouchers” by another name. Notoriously, voucher programs prop up private schools through the use of public funds. DeLauro says that this type of backhanded money moving leads to and promotes “divisive, ideologically driven policy priorities.”
Basically, DeVos and her strategies will ultimately use this pandemic to bolster private, often religious, schools, thereby creating an even greater, and more uneven, divide between them and public schools.
DeLauro said in a statement, “At best, the secretary is exploiting emergency relief legislation to insert secretarial priorities not outlined in this section of the CARES Act… At worst, the secretary is deliberately misreading the law to conjure up purposes for these resources that were not provided.”
Robert Enlow, president and CEO of EdChoice which is a nonprofit school choice research and advocacy group, had this to say on the matter, “We should be thinking about what families need and meeting them where they are.” He advocates the funding, saying that this puts power in the hands of parents and not into “buildings.”
DeVos’ other move could absolutely wreck public school finances, even as systems are facing draconian cuts. Public school groups are fearful of the repercussions, one such group which represents some huge city districts believes we will see the laying off of more than a quarter million teachers in the public school system. Devastating.
Regarding the CARES Act, DeVos released her recommendations on how $13.5 billion should be distributed. Normally, the amount of federal money school districts are given is based on the amount of low income students they have and private schools are also entitled federal money based on students they have living in poverty as well. But DeVos’ new guidance will see private school programs accessing CARES funds simply based on HOW MANY students they serve, NOT whether or not they have kids living in poverty.
Public districts, however, will still only be given those federal funds based on the number of poverty-level kids they have. How is this even legal?
That’s what many groups representing public schools are asking. Some groups say this actually a violation of the intent of the law and is an unprecedented move.
The School Superintendents Association and the two national teacher unions are calling on DeVos to amend these guidelines and to revise them to protect public schools from any unethical violations. In a letter to DeVos, they said, “Absent these edits, the CARES Act equitable services guidance is inequitable and creates an environment where wealthy children in private schools are counted … at the direct expense of low-income children remaining in public schools.”
The Council of Chief State School Officers also penned a letter to DeVos pointing out that in one Louisiana parish, “at least 77% of its CARES formula allocation would be directed to non-public schools in the area.”
The Department of Education spokesperson Angela Morabito offered their defense, saying, “Congress directed the department to make sure all students are able to be served through the CARES Act.” She said that if money is only provided for low-income private school students then private school teachers and students are unfairly placed at a disadvantage. Huh?
Just as public schools have advocacy groups, there are private school advocacy groups, as well, and at least one group representing private schools says they don’t believe they will need access to those CARES funds.
The VP of the National Association of Independent Schools, Myra McGovern, says very few of the schools she works directly with takes any Title I money. She cites fear of infringement on the schools’ autonomy as the primary reason they don’t access federal funds. She admits that it is unclear if their need to use federal money will change in light of the pandemic.
Some private school groups have been vocal about an uncertain future, with many speculating that they, too, could see devastating losses putting them in a more vulnerable position and therefore needing all the help available.
Sister Dale McDonald, director of public policy for the National Catholic Education Association, said, “Every kid in public school and private schools is affected [by this crisis], it’s not dependent upon whether they are poor… Everybody is at risk during this time frame, trying to learn under really trying circumstances.”
McDonald states that Catholic schools are already losing money at an unsustainable rate with parents no longer being able to afford tuition and churches unable to take up collections which help support the schools. Many are already in the position of closing for good. She said, “Every school deserves better.”