The bad news about CARES Act funding for schools is that there’s not nearly enough of it. For some school districts, there’s very little. More federal aid may be coming, but we don’t know when or how much.
The good news: In Indiana, at least, public school districts won’t need to worry about Betsy DeVos diverting their anticipated funding to private schools.
DeVos, the U.S. secretary of education, may still succeed in her scheme to use the act to boost funding for even the wealthiest private schools. But the Indiana Department of Education will make up any funds that are lost to public schools.
“The CARES Act was intended to assist those most in need …,” Indiana Superintendent of Public Education Jennifer McCormick told school officials. “COVID-19 has affected everyone, but not equally. It is my responsibility and IDOE’s obligation to ensure those most in need receive the appropriate support.”
The CARES Act, signed into law in late March, provides $215 million to Indiana to help public school districts and charter schools cover costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The act says the funds should be allocated in the same manner as annual Title I grants, with more money for high-poverty schools.
Public school districts must share some of their Title I funds to provide “equitable services” in local private schools, with the amount based on the number of students from low-income families enrolled in the private schools.
But DeVos, in guidance issued in early May, said that CARES Act funding for private schools should be based on their total enrollment, not their enrollment of poor students: presumably a private school with zero poor students would qualify for as much money as a private school where all students are poor.
The guidance was nonbinding; states could ignore it, and Indiana did.
DeVos then doubled down, issuing a rule that would severely restrict how public school districts can use CARES Act funding if they don’t follow her guidance. The rule would have the force of law – if it’s legal. Several states, school districts, parents and the NAACP have sued, arguing that it isn’t.
Meanwhile, the school year is starting, and school districts need to know how much money they can spend. To stave off the uncertainty, the Indiana Department of Education says it will use its own share of CARES Act funds to offset any money that school districts lose, should DeVos prevail in court.
Now for the bad news. The CARES Act provided only $13.2 billion nationwide for schools. That’s far less than what’s needed even in the short term, according to estimates from the American Federation of Teachers and other groups.
An additional round of federal COVID-19 relief is expected to include more money for schools, but the House and Senate haven’t agreed on details.
Because the CARES Act allocates funding by the Title I formula, some high-poverty school districts, both rural and urban, are getting significant funding while most affluent districts are not. For example, Austin schools, with 1,200 students, get more money than Hamilton Southeastern schools, with 22,000. Wealthy districts may have to look to other sources until Congress comes through with more widespread school assistance.
To see how much money school districts and charter schools are getting from the CARES Act, see this spreadsheet from the Indiana Department of Education.