WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Racine today joined a coalition of six Attorneys General in a lawsuit against U.S. Department of Education (Department) Secretary Betsy DeVos’ unlawful attempt to siphon pandemic relief funds away from K-12 public schools. This is the latest effort by Secretary DeVos to undermine congressional intent through regulations that unlawfully reinterpret the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) and run counter to ensuring that students and schools in financial need get the resources they have been promised. The lawsuit seeks to block the Department’s interim final rule, which could divert $3.8 million away from taxpayer-funded public schools in the District’s poorest neighborhoods to private institutions.
On March 27, 2020, Congress passed the CARES Act in response to the ongoing pandemic and its impact across the country. Under the Act, Secretary DeVos is required to allocate funding to help schools prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19. Congress set forth a formula for the distribution of $13.2 billion in aid to K-12 schools nationwide—with over $47.8 million for public schools in the District.
As part of the Act, aid to both public and private K-12 schools is required to be distributed in line with Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (Title I). Title I funds are generally aimed at helping children from low-income families across the country. However, flouting Congressional intent, the Department’s interim final rule changes the legislated funding mechanism by requiring funds to be distributed based on the total number of private school students, instead of the number of low-income students. The other distribution “option” provided by the Department would prohibit low-income public school students who attend a non-Title I school from receiving aid. The Department admits that this rule allows private schools—with tuitions more akin to private colleges—to demand these emergency funds, leaving the poorest schools with less.
In the lawsuit, the coalition asserts that the Department’s interim final rule unlawfully exceeds its authority, undermines Congressional intent, fails to adequately justify its decision in breach of the Administrative Procedure Act, and violates the U.S. Constitution.
AG Racine joins this lawsuit with the Attorneys General of California, Michigan, Maine, New Mexico, and Wisconsin.
A copy of the lawsuit is available here: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-07/CARES-Act-Equitable-Services-Rule-Complaint.pdf