The New Jersey School Boards Association last week urged New Jersey’s Congressional delegation to reject U.S. Department of Education guidance that would result in non-public schools receiving a disproportionate share of federal CARES Act funding.

The discrepancy is caused by the application of different methodologies for public and non-public schools by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

U.S. Representatives Seth Moulton, a Democrat from Massachusetts, and Pete Stauber, a Republican from Minnesota, are leading an effort to reverse the secretary’s guidance, which would have a detrimental impact on public school funding.

“There is a significant gap between the Secretary of Education’s guidance and the CARES Act, creating uncertainty over the amount of funding public school districts will receive,” said Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, NJSBA executive director. “This is a misinterpretation of the law that will create an injustice for public schools.

“We will continue working with the National School Boards Association in advocating supplemental legislation to remedy the situation,” he said.

Under the guidance from DeVosschool districts were required to use a portion of their Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to provide all private school students with equitable services. The ESSER Funds were distributed to the states based on their enrollment of Title 1 students for public K-12 students. But DeVos used a different calculation for private schools. For private schools, she counted total enrollment — not just students who are disadvantaged. That interpretation of the funding allocation could result in private schools getting a larger share of the money, according to the National School Boards Association (NSBA). 

Education leaders in some states have said they will not follow the guidance, and legal challenges are likely to mount if the federal Department of Education issues a binding rule. 

After learning that some states planned to ignore the non-binding guidance, DeVos announced plans to adopt regulations forcing states and school districts to follow her interpretation of the law. Congressional leaders, including Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chair Lamar Alexander, has publicly disagreed with the secretary’s interpretation. 

Congressional Appropriations Process Inches Forward 

The House Labor, Health, and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over the budget for the Department of Education, plans to mark up the budget on July 7. There has already been a dispute between Senate Democrats and Republicans over whether Senate Democrats will have the ability to offer amendments to address some of their priorities around policy reform and COVID-19. The national school boards advocacy team is working to ensure the fiscal year 2021 budget includes significant funding for education priorities. 

House Education Committee Holds Hearing to Examine the Pandemic’s Impact 

Last week, the House Education and Labor Committee held a hearing about “Budget Cuts and Lost Learning: Assessing the Impact of COVID-19 on Public Education.”  Chairman Bobby Scott, a Democrat from Virginia, highlighted the work of the House in passing the HEROES Act last month that would provide nearly $1 trillion to address budget shortfalls and avert cuts in education with $60 billion in direct K-12 funding.

He said that “this is a pivotal moment in our fight for equity in education,” and “we cannot put the safety of our students, teachers, and staff at risk.  We must provide the resources they need.” 

Ranking Member Virginia Foxx, a Republican from North Carolina, said that since some schools have not yet spent the relief funding provided through the CARES Act, it would be premature to provide additional funding before Congress has had an opportunity to evaluate the use of funds already disbursed.  She reminded the committee that more spending does not guarantee better outcomes.