Betsy DeVos accused of diverting pandemic relief funds from poor students to wealthy private schools

Critics of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have often accused her of favoring private schools — especially Christian schools — over public education. And now, the Trump loyalist (who is the sister of former Blackwater mercenary Erik Prince) is the target of a lawsuit alleging that she illegally funneled coronavirus relief funds from the economically disadvantage public schools they were intended for to affluent private schools.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. by the NAACP along with a coalition of public schools and parents. Law & Crime reporter Jerry Lambe notes that the lawsuit “claims that DeVos illegally issued a rule reallocating $13.2 billion in congressionally approved Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds to benefit private schools rather than public schools under a disputed aid formula.”

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The complaint against DeVos states, “Contrary to the Act’s plain language, the Guidance Document directed (districts) to apportion CARES Act funds for private schools based on the total number of private school students residing in the district, as opposed to the number of low-income private-school students.” And the plaintiffs allege that because of DeVos’ actions, hundreds of millions of dollars were diverted from public schools to private schools — which, they argue, “is as immoral as it is illegal.”

According to the lawsuit, “In a moment of crisis — when public school districts are called upon to educate their students in unprecedented circumstances, to protect their students and staff from disease, and to feed families who have been plunged into poverty, all with decimated state and local revenues — it is unconscionable for defendants to siphon away the CARES Act’s desperately needed funds for the benefit of more affluent private-school students.”

DeVos, however, has claimed that there is nothing in the CARES Act saying that funds have to be allocated to economically disadvantage students attending public schools. The secretary of education recently told reporters, “The CARES Act is a special, pandemic-related appropriation to benefit all American students, teachers and families impacted by coronavirus. There is nothing in the law Congress passed that would allow districts to discriminate against children and teachers based on private school attendance and employment.”

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