Shaheen, Senators to Betsy DeVos: Scrap Baseless Regulation and Get Emergency Funding to K-12 Schools Without Delay

August 03, 2020

Senators criticize Education Secretary for ignoring congressional intent and failing to support schools that need help most.

Shaheen sent a letter to DeVos on this issue in June, demanding that the Trump administration immediately revise its directive that violates the CARES Act in an effort to redirect resources to wealthier private school families instead of to provide support for low-income students.

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) joined U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Bob Casey (D-PA) on a letter last week, condemning Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for failing to get emergency support to school districts during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Senators urged her to follow congressional intent when allocating coronavirus relief funds to elementary and secondary schools.

Shaheen, Tester, Casey and a group of Senators wrote in a formal comment on DeVos’ proposed rule that while Congress included more than $30 billion in Education Stabilization Funds in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to address problems arising from the coronavirus pandemic, DeVos is deliberately misinterpreting the letter of the law to divert those funds towards private schools and away from where they are needed most.

“As the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic continues to spread across our nation, our education system is facing unprecedented disruption. During this time, it is critical that we provide school districts with resources as quickly as possible, and that we target these funds to districts with the highest need,” the Senators wrote. “…This interim final rule contradicts the plain language of the CARES Act, contradicts congressional intent, and has caused unnecessary delays in getting emergency education funds to school districts. We respectfully urge you to withdraw this rule.”

DeVos published an interim final rule on July 1 that willfully ignores congressional intent by misinterpreting language in the CARES Act. The rule directs school districts to calculate their CARES Act funding based on the total number of private school students in a district, instead of the number of low-income students as the law requires. DeVos’ flawed interpretation has caused delays in getting critical relief funding to schools and wasted time and taxpayer dollars.

“Though all communities are affected by Covid-19, they are not all affected equally,” the Senators continued. “While all schools have faced disruptions, school districts serving higher numbers of low-income students have had to not only transition academic services, but also ensure children have access to school meals and necessary technology. As federal funds are allocated, it is critical that they be targeted to school districts serving students and families with the greatest need.”

Shaheen, Tester and Casey were joined on the letter by U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tina Smith (D-MN), Jack Reed (D-RI), Mark Warner (D-VA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Angus King (I-ME), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ).

The Senators’ letter is available here.

Shaheen sent a letter to DeVos on this issue in June, demanding that the Trump administration immediately revise this directive, which defies the CARES Act with regard to federal funds provided for services for private school students. Senator Shaheen’s letter came in response to a conference call she hosted with New Hampshire school officials and administrators in May to discuss ongoing COVID response efforts. Delays in CARES Act funding and confusing implementation guidance from the Trump administration on the private school student services funding issue was one of the top concerns.