NAACP Sues Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Over CARES Act Rule Change Affecting Schools

The organization says the change unlawfully takes away funding from struggling public schools and gives even more assets to private schools.

The NAACP has filed suit against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over a rule change issued by her office this month to the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) that would force public schools to give more of its relief aid money to private schools.

In the lawsuit, the civil rights organization argues that the rule would create illegal requirements on the funds intended for public schools.

“Amid a national health crisis, Education Secretary Besty DeVos is robbing public school children of desperately needed relief and diverting it to private schools,” said Derrick Johnson, the NAACP’s president and CEO in a statement. “This is a new low, even for an administration intent on promoting inequality in education.”

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The complaint was filed Wednesday (July 22)  in federal court in Washington D.C. and says DeVos unlawfully changed exactly how $13.2 billion in allocated assets from the Education Stabilization Fund, created when President Trump signed the CARES Act in March would be distributed between public and private schools. 

The CARES Act says that public school districts across the country have to calculate how much money would be set aside for private schools based on the number of low-income students attending them. 

However, the lawsuit charges that DeVos is requiring that the money either be allocated to the private schools based on all of the students in attendance regardless of their families’ incomes, or allocate funds based on the number of low-income students in the private schools but still leave them with restrictions in how they funds can be used -- which hinders how these schools can serve students at Title I schools, or schools where at least 40 percent of students are low-income.

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DeVos’s office has not yet responded publicly to the lawsuit, but in a statement last month, she defended how the CARES Act funding would be used. 

“There is no reasonable explanation for debating the use of federal funding to serve both public and private K-12 students when federal funding, including CARES Act funding, flows to both public and private higher education institutions,” she said.

School districts have rejected the Education Department’s rule change and say that this amounts to more being taken away from public schools and given to private schools through the voucher system, which both DeVos and Donald Trump have long championed. 

“Secretary DeVos’s binding rule forces our neighborhood schools to give desperately needed federal aid to private schools that have already accepted small business bailouts,” said Beth Lewis, a teacher in the Tempe, Arizona school district in the NAACP statement. “Meanwhile, Title I public schools like mine have to rely on local charities and donors to help us feed students and stock classrooms. This rule will harm the students and families who need resources the most.”

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In Denver, school board member Angela Cobian also rejected the logic perpetrated by the Secretary.

"While we acknowledge that private schools do service some students from low-income households,” she told station KMGH, “we strongly disagree that pubic funding, that is designated for our public schools students from low-income households, should go to private schools that are not bound by civil rights and anti-discrimination laws."

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