U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has issued a rule that would give school districts the option to restrict the use of Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to help only low-income students in both public and private schools. 

The new rule modifies DeVos’s earlier stand on the matter. She had initially said she wanted CARES funds to be used for low-income public school students but said that the share allocated to private schools would be based on total enrollment, regardless of income level. 

DeVos’s new Interim Final Rule (IFR), which becomes effective immediately, outlines how local education agencies (LEAs) must calculate the emergency funds available for providing equitable services to students and teachers in private schools. 

Under the rule, if an LEA chooses to use CARES Act funding for students in all its public schools, it still must calculate the funds for equitable services based on students enrolled in private schools in the district. However, if an LEA chooses to use CARES Act funding only for students in its Title I schools, it has two options: 

  • Calculate the funds for equitable services based on the total number of low-income students in Title I and participating private schools; or 
  • Calculate the funds using the LEA’s Title I, Part A share from the 2019-2020 school year. 

Most private schools serving low- and middle-income communities are under great financial strain due to COVID-19 because they are typically dependent on tuition from families and donations from their communities. Because the economic disruptions are shrinking these revenue sources, more than 100 private schools have already announced they will not be able to reopen following the pandemic. The local public schools may have to absorb thousands of students transferring from private schools at a time when public schools are already under their own financial strain. 

The IFR has been unofficially published on the federal education department’s website. Once the rule is officially published in the Federal Register, it will be effective immediately and open for public comment for 30 days.  

Congressional representatives issued a letter to Secretary Devos stating their belief that LEAs must allocate any of the federal   funds to private schools based on low-income student enrollment, just as is done for public schools.  The National School Boards Association led an advocacy effort for all states to encourage members of congress to sign on to the letter.  NJSBA sent emails to all members, and New Jersey Congressmen Frank Pallone and Donald Norcross both signed on to the letter.