A federal judge on Friday put a stop to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ latest scheme to divert taxpayer aid away from public schools and toward private institutions.
This new legal challenge concerns the main pandemic relief measure, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which contained a provision directing a portion of the federal aid to private schools based on the number of disadvantaged children they enroll. DeVos altered this formula, which has been used in other contexts for decades, to direct the aid to private schools based on the total number of students they enroll, whether those students meet the definition of disadvantaged or not.
The result of this would have been much more taxpayer aid flowing to private schools – and it would have come at the expense of public schools and the poor, disadvantaged children the aid is meant to serve.
Several states sued over the DeVos policy, among them Washington state, and a federal court agreed with them. U.S. District Court Judge Barbara J. Rothstein of the Western District of Washington issued an injunction putting the DeVos rules on hold while the legal challenge proceeds.
Rothstein made it clear that she wasn’t buying DeVos’ attempt to rewrite the longstanding rules. Education Week described her opinion as “blistering” and Forbes reported that Rothstein spent five pages “crushing” the Trump administration’s position.
The CARES Act, Rothstein wrote, “could hardly be less ambiguous.” She noted that the law “unequivocally and plainly instructed” the U.S. Department of Education to adhere to a “simple, familiar and time-tested formula” for distributing aid to schools and she accused DeVos of manufacturing “an ambiguity to justify resolving it, thereby thwarting Congress’s obvious intent.”
Trump and DeVos have been pushing various types of voucher plans and other schemes to funnel massive amounts of tax aid to private schools – most of which are religious – for years. A recent report by Americans United detailed how the Paycheck Protection Program, another aspect of the coronavirus relief package, was used to channel billions to private schools, even though many of these institutions are wealthy and have large endowments.
Public schools serve 90% of America’s children. Americans have made it clear over and over again that they support our public schools and don’t favor the privatization boondoggles backed by Trump and DeVos.
While it’s heartening to see those two lose this round in court, we can’t get complacent. We know they’ll be back with more attempts to undermine public education. In fact, the current Senate version of the new pandemic relief bill contains a proposal that would direct tax funding into the coffers of private schools and would also create a federally funded private school voucher program.
Please let your senators know that you support public funds for public schools!