Public schools have a shot at much-needed coronavirus relief after Michigan native US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos gave up her court fight Friday.
LANSING, MI—US Secretary of Education and Michigan native Betsy DeVos overstepped her authority by sending coronavirus aid to private schools, a judge ruled Sept. 4. The court ruling DeVos announced Friday she wouldn’t seek to appeal, which will help redirect the critical funds to public schools who rely on it during the pandemic.
Public school funding has been a longstanding crisis. That crisis has been exacerbated by the costs associated with the coronavirus. And while Congress attempted to aid schools at least somewhat, the administration of President Donald Trump tried to redirect those funds away from public schools.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) has been a battleground in the war over school funding, as the Trump Department of Education attempted to funnel coronavirus funds into private schools. This prompted a lawsuit from several states, including Michigan, which the Department of Education lost in early September.
In a letter issued at the end of September, DeVos conceded her loss in federal courts, though argued fervently that using CARES Act money on private schools was justified.
“The landscape of how a regular school day is conducted has changed for so many and Congress allocated these CARES Act funds for those most in need,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement provided to The ‘Gander. “We were poised for a fight because it was the right thing to do, and will accept Secretary DeVos’ acknowledgement of her defeat. However, my colleagues and I will remain on guard to defend against any future attempts by this administration to rob funding from our public schools and students who are most in need of these critical resources.”
It was District Judge Dabney Friedrich who struck down DeVos’ rule directing money to private schools. He ruled it both overstepped her authority and misconstrued the will of Congress in passing the CARES Act. Writing in the decision, Friedrich said, “It is difficult to imagine how Congress could have been clearer” about the intended use of CARES education funding.
That came after Nessel was able to halt the redirection of money with an injunction from District Court Judge James Donato, who strongly refuted DeVos’ arguments about her authority. Donato also pointed out how clear the intent of Congress was, and further highlighted that private schools had their own means of addressing hardships caused by the coronavirus—the Paycheck Protection Program, which private schools have availed themselves of.
DeVos conceded the loss, but not the argument.
“Unfortunately for students, a US District Court has vacated the Department’s Interim Final Rule (IFR),” DeVos wrote. “The Department strongly, but respectfully, disagrees with the ruling. However, we respect the rule of law and will enforce the law as the courts have opined.”
Public education advocates at Protect Our Public Schools disagrees strongly with DeVos.
“Secretary DeVos is rewriting and exploiting previous U.S. Department of Education guidance to shovel taxpayer dollars to private, for-profit schools,” POPS’ Ellen Offen told The ‘Gander.
Offen, who is a former Detroit Public Schools Community District teacher, serves as vice president of Protect Our Public Schools. She explained that the DeVos family successfully lobbied to raise the number of for-profit charter schools in Detroit, citing reports the New York Times. And Protect Our Public Schools told The ‘Gander that those charters don’t perform well—70% of Michigan charter schools are in the bottom half of Michigan schools by performance.