LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan and several other states are suing the federal government and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos over the way she ordered coronavirus relief aid to be distributed, saying it benefits private schools over public schools.
The other plaintiffs include California, Maine, New Mexico, Wisconsin, and Washington, D.C.
In the lawsuit filed Tuesday in a federal court in California, the states asked that the rules set forth by DeVos be declared unlawful and that the U.S. Department of Education be prohibited from enforcing them. They are hoping for a preliminary injunction within a few weeks.
“The U.S. secretary of education manufactured guidance and then a rule that favored nonpublic schools at the expense of public schools in a way neither intended nor enacted by Congress,” Michigan schools Superintendent Michael Rice summed up the states’ allegations during an afternoon press conference with Attorney General Dana Nessel and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Nessel said Michigan got $390 million for schools from the federal CARES Act. According to the language of the law, she said, the money is supposed to be distributed proportionately to the number of low-income students under Title I equitable service protections for those who are academically at-risk.
DeVos’ interpretation gave local school agencies two options in passing out money that Nessel said contradict the law:
“Districts can allocate funds based on the total number of students enrolled in an eligible private school, regardless of income level, or allocate funds only for Title I schools, leaving no CARES Act funds available non-Title I public schools,” Nessel listed.
Rice said the rules issued last week put local school districts in the difficult position of being forced to choose between the verbatim language of the law and conflicting guidance from the secretary of education, plus calls into question the difference between the two formulas and what to do with the difference in dollar amounts.
Rice said in all, DeVos’ rules would funnel a little less than $16.5 million more to private schools rather than sending that cash to public schools. Nessel said Grand Rapids Public Schools and Detroit Public Schools Community District stand to lose $2.6 million each and the Flint public district would lose $1.4 million.
Nessel called DeVos’ move a “flagrant violation of the plain language” of the CARES Act and cited DeVos’ long support of private education.
“(It) is really just another example in a long history of an administration that uses any and every opportunity available to tip the scale in favor of private schools at the great expense of our public schools,” Nessel said. “But all students in this country deserve an equal change at an education. And that’s why we cannot and will not sit on the sidelines while critical funding specifically allocated based on low-income status is allowed to be reallocated by counting students who have privileges and resources already available to them.”
DeVos is a Michigan native.