Indiana schools chief stands up to DeVos

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick is taking bold action by rejecting guidance from the U.S. Department of Education and distributing emergency aid for schools the way Congress intended.

Jennifer McCormick

Jennifer McCormick

It’s remarkable that, thanks to McCormick, Indiana appears to be the first state to openly push back against U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and refuse to follow guidance that it deems to be contrary to the law.

At issue is funding from the CARES Act, which provides $13.2 billion to help schools respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools can use the money to improve technology, protect student health and plan for the next school year.

“The guidance is contrary to the act,” Indiana Department of Education spokesman Adam Baker said. “Our obligation is to follow the act.”

The CARES Act says the money should be distributed in the same manner that federal Title I funds are distributed. But DeVos issued guidance for the law that would change that approach and divert funding to private schools.

The Title I program provides federal support for public schools, with funding determined by the number of students from low-income families. It includes a provision that requires school districts to provide “equitable services” for students in local private schools. Funding for those services is based on the number of students from low-income families who attend the private schools.

But DeVos’ nonbinding guidance called for a different approach. It would base CARES Act allocations on how many students live in Title 1 school attendance areas but attend private schools, even if they aren’t from low-income families.

Indiana public school districts and charter schools are getting $215 million from the CARES Act, about 3% of what they receive in state funding per year.

Baker said some Indiana districts could have to share at least three times as much money with private schools under DeVos’ guidance as under the language of the act. According to Chalkbeat Indiana, DeVos’ interpretation would triple the statewide share going to private schools, from $4.9 million to $15.4 million.

Private schools welcomed DeVos’ guidance at the same time that some private schools, including some that charge tens of thousands of dollars in tuition, were getting emergency loans through the government’s Paycheck Protection Program. The American Federation for Children, an advocacy group formerly headed by DeVos, has encouraged private schools to apply for the loans.

But advocates for public schools criticized the guidance. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and Dan Domenech, head of the school superintendents’ association, urged states and districts to ignore it.

“Prioritizing the needs of the wealthy few over the needs of everyday people is the wrong priority — and it ends here,” they said in a statement.

So far, Indiana appears to be the only state that has openly rejected the guidance, said Anne Hyslop, who follows education policy as assistant director of the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance for Excellent Education.

McCormick, in a memo to school administrators, said Indiana will implement the law as written by Congress, not as interpreted by the secretary of education.

“This final decision ensures that the funds are distributed according to Congressional intent and a plain reading of the law, which prioritizes communities and schools with high-poverty who are at most risk and in need of the additional funds,” the memo says.

Standing up to DeVos may not win McCormick many friends with Indiana’s private school-friendly Republican legislators. But it will further endear her to advocates for public schools, which educate the vast majority of Indiana’s students.

Politically, legally and ethically, it’s the right thing to do.

10 thoughts on “Indiana schools chief stands up to DeVos

  1. Yay for IN and our McCormick! Who ever heard of a Secty of Education with NO experience with education?Let’s get DeVos out of office before she does more harm.

  2. There is such a great need to confront the DeVos disaster. I’m from Michigan and am so embarrassed by everything she does! Congrats to Jennifer for leading the charge. Indiana should be proud of her! TJT

  3. It makes NO sense to have someone with no knowledge or interest in public education in that position. She is only helping those who can already afford to give their child that extra boost in education. Tipping the scales so dramatically only ensures that the divide between the haves and have nits stays dar enough apart that they aren’t able to join her country club. Give money yo the public schools, help/require they can hire special ed, title 1 teachers and put smaller numbers in classes so EVERYONE has a fair chance to learn and excel. Special Ed does not mean useless or unteachable…it means they need to learn at a different pace or in a different way. She has tied so many hands in her position. Teachers cannot teach with high numbers and the behaviors and different levels of needs….it’s not fair to anyone

  4. She only cares about private and for-profit schools. She has NO BUSINESS being the Secretary! She’s dishonest and doesn’t do her job. Time for her to go.

  5. Hopefully my state of Michigan and other states follow McCormick’s lead and use these funds for students who need them the most.

  6. This is one of the best things that has happened to public education in a long time. Thank you, Ms McCormick. We should take every advantage of the trying times we are in and strike while the sentiment for teachers is increasing. We need to work hard for our schools and teachers for all they have been through. As a former administrator, we must help our teachers get back their professional reputations that have somehow gotten lost. When we help our schools and teachers, we help our students.

  7. The assumption that all private schools and private school students are rich is completely false! Also private school student parents pay taxes just like everyone else, so not sure why they shouldn’t receive some benefit also! This seems so wrong! Taxpayer money should benefit everyone and not just the government run entities. Is it to support education or is it to support bureaucracy?? If it’s for education, then it shouldn’t matter as long as it’s a school. Similar to helping hospitals….. they should be helped whether publicly or privately funded! Everyone is suffering!

  8. Pingback: Mixed picture for CARES Act school funding | School Matters

  9. Pingback: Court affirms McCormick’s position on private school funding | School Matters

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