CA Sues Feds to Protect CARES Act Public School Funds

Suzanne Potter | California News Service
Advocates for public schools say federal CARES Act funding should favor low-income public schools over private institutions. Photo Credit: Shaitra Ken

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California, four other states and Washington, D.C., are suing to stop the federal government from siphoning off coronavirus aid meant for low-income schools and sending it to private and religious schools.

Last week, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos issued an interim final rule that requires CARES Act funds be “equitably distributed” to religious and private schools.

However, California state Attorney General Xavier Becerra said that would shortchange needy public-school districts.

“The Trump administration is creating a process that could unlawfully take tens of millions of dollars away from low-income public schools and divert it to private schools,” he said, “some of these private schools charging tuition as much as a private university.”

Public-school advocates have complained that DeVos’ rule would allocate funds to private schools according to their population and not their students’ level of need. In late March, Congress appropriated $13 billion to help school districts clean their sites and implement distance learning — of which $1.5 billion is earmarked for California.

Becerra said many private schools are able to “double dip” by also claiming funds meant to pay furloughed workers’ salaries.

“Some of those schools have already been able to access the CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program,” he said, “unlike California public schools that can’t.”

The attorneys general have vowed to seek a preliminary injunction to stop the interim final rule, which currently is open for public comment online at regulations.gov.

The text of the lawsuit is at oag.ca.gov, and the federal interim final rule is at federalregister.gov.

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