Washington state suing Betsy Devos over CARES Act funding

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WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 28: U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testifies during a Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee discussing proposed budget estimates and justification for FY2020 for the Education Department on March 28, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a federal lawsuit against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the U.S. Department of Education over its policy rerouting some CARES Act funding to private schools.

Ferguson argued the rule will deprive Washington’s public elementary and secondary schools from receiving emergency relief funds.

When approving the CARES Act, Congress more than $13 billion for elementary and secondary schools across the country. The funds were allocated to assist public schools and private schools with low-income families to help with purchases for personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies, technology for online classes and meal programs.

Ferguson said DeVos is going against Congress’ direction and “unlawfully” ordering school districts to distribute the funds in a manner that will take CARES Act funding away from public schools and low-income students.

The CARES Act allocates funds to school districts based on the number of students they serve. At first, the Dept. of Education issued guidance that would have distributed those funds based on the total number of enrolled students in public and private schools, regardless of the income level of their families.

The department later issued a rule that forced districts to choose between distributing all of the funds only to Title I schools in their districts or distributing the funds by total student population.

Title I schools must have at least 40 percent of their students from low-income families. Though many schools are Title I eligible, some do not participate in the program for various reasons.

All schools in districts that do not participate in the program would receive no funding, regarding of how many low-income students they have. Ferguson argued that both options alter how the funds are spent and both have the potential to deprive public schools of significant funding Congress intended for them.

“Betsy DeVos is unlawfully trying to funnel much-needed relief funds away from Washington’s most vulnerable public school students and give them to private schools,” Ferguson said. “Low-income families have been hit hard by this pandemic. This lawsuit will ensure the funds go where Congress intended them.”

“The federal government should be doing everything it can to help during this pandemic,” Governor Jay Inslee said. “That includes much needed resources to help schools prevent the spread of the disease. It is unfathomable that this administration would try to reduce the amount of money that schools receive to help low-income families. I thank Attorney General Ferguson for taking action on this crucial issue.”

“Trump and Betsy DeVos are once again trying to divert funds away from Washington’s public schools and overrule how we fund schools fairly in our state,” said Larry Delaney, president of the Washington Education Association. “We commend Attorney General Ferguson for taking this much-needed action to make sure our public school funding stays with our public schools.”

The Attorney General also filed a motion for preliminary injunction in the case, asking a judge to immediately block the Dept. of Education’s restrictions on grants.

Washington joins 22 other states in filing lawsuits against the department.

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