Indiana Superintendent of Public Education Jennifer McCormick was on solid legal ground when she rejected federal guidance on distributing CARES Act funding to private schools. Three federal courts have now made that clear.
Most recently, in a decision that applies nationwide, a judge ruled that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was wrong when she and the U.S. Department of Education tried to divert more funding to private schools than Congress intended.
“In enacting the education funding provisions of the CARES Act, Congress spoke with a clear voice,” wrote U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich. “It declared that relief funding shall be provided to private schools ‘in the same manner as provided’ (in federal school funding law). Contrary to the Department’s interim final rule, that cannot mean the opposite of what it says.”
Indiana charter schools were awarded between $15 million and $38 million in Paycheck Protection Program funding intended to help small businesses and nonprofits during the economic downturn, according to Small Business Administration data.
That is in addition to funding under a section of the CARES Act intended to help public schools; Indiana charter schools got $20.5 million in that funding.
The PPP figure is a conservative estimate. It doesn’t include schools that may have received less than $150,000, which were not identified by the SBA.
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.
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.
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.