June 25, 2020

Moulton and Stauber Lead Coalition to Protect CARES Act Funding for Public School Students

74 lawmakers tell Education Secretary Betsy Devos the Department of Education is misinterpreting the law, incorrectly directing money intended for public schools to private schools

WASHINGTON — Today, Representatives Seth Moulton (D-MA) and Pete Stauber (R-MN) sent a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos urging her to reverse course on guidance she issued that directs money to private schools that Congress allocated through The CARES Act to public schools.

“In chaos, good leaders provide certainty. That’s what teachers are giving our kids. The Secretary of Education’s decision is creating confusion. It amounts to a robbery of the nation’s public schools,” Moulton said. “This has real consequences for public school kids and their teachers. If this isn’t fixed, Secretary DeVos will have succeeded in finding another way to break the nation’s promise of a quality public education for every one of our kids. Reverse course.”

“Our rural public schools desperately need the funding prescribed in the CARES Act,” Stauber said. “It is crucial the Education Department correctly allocates the funds as directed by the law, and I’m proud to work in a bipartisan manner with Representative Moulton to ensure the voices of public schools are heard.”

The CARES Act included relief funds to support American schools. The bill cleared congress with overwhelming support from Democrats and Republicans. The law instructs public school districts to provide a percentage of their relief dollars to the private schools in their area based on the number of students attending private schools who are from low-income families. Instead, when Secretary DeVos issued the Department of Education’s guidance to schools, she directed districts to allocate the funds to private schools based on the total number of students enrolled in private schools, drastically increasing the amount of money public schools must send to private schools in the area.

The difference between the formula in The CARES Act, which Congress passed and President Trump signed into law, and the guidance that Secretary DeVos unilaterally gave schools means in some states millions of dollars intended for public school students will be sent to private schools instead. Secretary DeVos’s conflicting guidance has added to the chaos Americans have asked the nation’s teachers and administrators to manage as they deliver a quality education to children. In some states, confused school districts have ignored the guidance. In others, where schools have followed the guidance, public school administrators are worried that they will be giving away vital funding in an era of unprecedented state revenue shortfalls that could lead to furloughs or layoffs.

Moulton and Stauber worked across the aisle to build a coalition of 74 Members of Congress. This morning, they sent a letter to the Secretary of Education demanding she reverse course. Their work has earned the support of the nation’s public school teachers and administrators.

Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) said: “Over half of parents in America today say they’re scared to send their kids back to school in the fall. Our economy and society can’t reopen until schools do, but schools can’t reopen without the plans and resources to make sure kids and educators are safe. We need resources for the health and safety of our classrooms, including deep cleaning procedures and PPE for educators, and we need resources to support our most vulnerable students who will face trauma and learning loss after months of distance learning. All of these mean increased needs, which make the Secretary’s equitable services guidance so concerning, because it would redirect funding away from Title I-eligible students in public schools in order to generate dollars for wealthy students in private schools. The guidance is in fact highly inequitable, and flies in the face of the spirit of the CARES Act, which sought to provide relief to our communities and close these gaps. We thank the dozens of Representatives who, in a bipartisan way, are urging Secretary DeVos to change her guidance. We just hope she will listen and do what’s right for America’s students.”

Marc Egan, Director of Government Relations of the National Education Association (NEA) said: “We thank Representatives Moulton and Stauber for the bipartisan demonstration that Secretary DeVos overstepped the clear Congressional intent with her recent equitable services rule. The emergency education funding from the CARES Act is critical to ensuring that public schools and students most in need have the resources they need during this crisis. The NEA stands with these Members of Congress in calling on the Secretary to immediately revise her guidance to ensure it follows Congress’ clear intent.”

Dr. Earl Franks, CAE, Executive Director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP): “The nation’s principals believe strongly in serving all students no matter which school they attend. This includes the equitable participation of students in non-public schools. The U.S. Department of Education’s guidance regarding equitable services, however, undermines this principle and ignores Congress’ clear intent: that the number of low-income students attending non-public schools in the local education agency should serve as the basis for how equitable services are allocated. The Department of Education’s clear misinterpretation has created confusion and caused unnecessary delays in getting emergency education funds to schools during this pandemic. The National Association of Elementary School Principals appreciates this bipartisan effort to revise the guidance and ensure that CARES Act funds are disbursed in the way that Congress intended.”

The full list of Members of Congress who signed this letter follows: Seth Moulton (D-MA-06), Pete Stauber (R-MN-08), Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS-02), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-01), Jahana Hayes (D-CT-05), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ-07), Jim Cooper (D-TN-05), Adam Smith (D-WA-09), Peter A. DeFazio (D-OR-04), Thomas R. Suozzi (D-NY-03), Julia Brownley (D-CA-26), Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ-06), Susan Wild (D-PA-07), Bruce Westerman (R-AR-04), Denny Heck (D-WA-10), Bill Foster (D-IL-11), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA-20), Lori Trahan (D-MA-03), Lauren Underwood (D-IL-14), Elaine G. Luria (D-VA-02), Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA-06), Marc Veasey (D-TX-33), Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY-07), John Katko (R-NY-24), Sylvia R. Garcia (D-TX-29), Peter Welch (D-VT-At-large), Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (D-GA-02), Madeleine Dean (D-PA-04), Debbie Dingell (D-MI-12), David Trone (D-MD-06), Terri A. Sewell (D-AL-07), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-10), Barbara Lee (D-CA-13), Joaquin Castro (D-TX-20), Angie Craig (D-MN-02), André Carson (D-IN-07), Jason Crow (D-CO-06), Kathy Castor (D-FL-14), Cindy Axne (D-IA-03), Abby Finkenauer (D-IA-01), Elissa Slotkin (D-MI-08), Dina Titus (D-NV-01), John Garamendi (D-CA-03), Conor Lamb (D-PA-17), Dean Phillips (D-MN-03), Deb Haaland (D-NM-01), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-09), Collin C. Peterson (D-MN-07), Salud Carbajal (D-CA-24), Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA-05), Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA-32), Jesús G. "Chuy" García (D-IL-04), Mark Takano (D-CA-41), Juan Vargas (D-CA-51), Mark Pocan (D-WI-02), John B. Larson (D-CT-01), Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH-02), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC-At-large), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY-13), Donald Norcross (D-NJ-01), Jared Huffman (D-CA-02), Katie Porter (D-CA-45), Steve Cohen (D-TN-09), Joyce Beatty (D-OH-03), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY-18), Frederica S. Wilson (D-FL-24), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR-01), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA-07), Paul D. Tonko (D-NY-20), Mike Bost (R-IL-12), Dave Loebsack (D-IA-02), Donna E. Shalala (D-FL-27). Linda T. Sánchez (D-CA-38), and David B. McKinley, P.E. (R-WV-01).

The full text of the letter can be found online here, and below:

June 25, 2020

Secretary Betsy DeVos
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202

Dear Secretary DeVos,

Congress passed the H.R. 748, Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (P.L. 116-136) with strong bipartisan support, and it was quickly signed into law on March 27, 2020. The CARES Act establishes the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funds to help schools meet the increased costs of school closures and remote learning, disproportionately borne by low-income, rural, and isolated communities. We request the U.S. Department of Education (ED) revise the guidance titled “Providing Equitable Services to Students and Teachers in Non-Public Schools under the CARES Act Programs,” which runs counter to the intent of Congress.

The CARES Act clearly commits relief funding for the most vulnerable student populations, a precedent set in decades of federal education funding. The statute requires local education agencies (LEAs) receiving ESSER or GEER funds to “provide equitable services in the same manner as provided under section 1117 of the ESEA of 1965 to students and teachers in non-public schools,” and section 1117 establishes that the allocation of federal funds to serve private school children is based on the number of low-income students in those private schools. In short, LEAs must allocate ESSER and GEER funds to private schools based on low-income student enrollment, just as is done for public schools.

ED guidance on allocation of ESSER and GEER funds to non-public schools counts all private school students, not just low-income students. As a result, LEAs would need to dedicate more relief funding to private schools, relative to the amount if section 1117 is followed as is statutorily required under the CARES Act, leaving less for public schools, which often serve proportionally more low-income students. Doing so denies public schools critical relief at a moment when state and local governments face steep declines in revenues on top of growing costs for coronavirus relief. This budget crunch faced by cities and towns across America threatens to crowd out funding for other services, including our public schools.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We stand ready to provide additional information to help correct ED guidance on ESSER and GEER allocations for non-public schools to reflect the intention of Congress in passing the CARES Act.


Member of Congress

Member of Congress

(et al--72 other members of Congress listed above)