The Trump appointed Education Secretary is directing school districts to share millions of dollars designated for low-income students with wealthy private schools.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is using the $2 trillion Cares Act passed in March by Congress, and which was specifically intended to provide relief and recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic to individuals, states, and localities, to push her long-standing anti-public education agenda, The New York Times reported.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) included $30 billion for education institutions impacted by the COVID-19 shutdowns across the nation. About $14 billion of those funds were destined for higher education, while $13.5 billion were to be used for elementary and secondary schools. The rest of the money was allocated for state governments. But that is not how DeVos wants it played out.
Uneven Playing Field
In April the Education Department invited states to compete for a $180 million grant using CARES Act funds. This was meant to provide resources to the states that were worst hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. The money would be used to provide needed services like mental health support to students, school meals, and many other resources that would benefit low-income families and those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, among others.
But DeVos’s competition does not allow the money to be used for these services. Instead, it takes money out of the public school system and directs it into private providers through what she calls “microgrants,” a form of vouchers that can be used for private and religious schools. Significantly, the allocation of these vouchers does not have to be based on need.
So, in essence, the Education Secretary is directing school districts to share millions of dollars designated for low-income students with wealthy private schools, nearly depleting about $350 million set aside for struggling colleges in an effort to boost small colleges, many of them private or religious, regardless of need. With this move, DeVos has diverted millions of federal dollars intended for public schools and colleges, to private and religious schools, taking resources away from the 90 percent of students that attend public schools across the U.S., many in impoverished rural or urban areas. Many of the schools that have been selected to receive the funds, such as the Ave Maria School of Law, Florida School of Traditional Midwifery and Hobe Sound Bible College, are in Florida.
In a statement, the Department of Education disputed the idea that DeVos has done anything unfair or improper. In the department’s view, the Trump hand-picked cabinet secretary simply sees a “need to rethink education.”
Democrats Fight Back
In response to DeVos’s plan, a stimulus bill set for a vote today by House Democrats includes language that would limit the Education Secretary’s ability to use $58 billion in education relief destined for K-12 school districts for private schools.
Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York and the minority leader, said DeVos is “using a portion of the funding not to help states or localities cope with the crisis, but to augment her push for voucher like programs, a prior initiative that has nothing to do with Covid-19.”