NAACP CEO Derrick Johnson accused Education Secretary Betsy DeVos of “robbing from the poor to benefit the rich” as his organization joined a series of lawsuits that seek to block coronavirus relief funds from being granted to private as well as public schools.
In late June, DeVos issued a rule to ensure all students – whether in public or private schools – could be served by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
“The CARES Act is a special, pandemic-related appropriation to benefit all American students, teachers, and families impacted by coronavirus,” the secretary said in a statement. “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.”
DeVos added the new rule recognizes “CARES Act programs are not Title I programs.”
“There is no reasonable explanation for debating the use of federal funding to serve both public and private K-12 students when federal funding, including CARES Act funding, flows to both public and private higher education institutions,” she said.
Johnson, however, accused DeVos of illegally changing the rules for distributing about $13.2 billion from the CARES funds. He argued the share of funds to be allocated to students in private schools was to be based on the number of Title I children attending those schools.
Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act aids schools with high numbers or percentages of low-income families.
“You literally accelerate robbing from the poor to benefit the rich,” he told ABC News about DeVos’s rule.
However, the Department of Education responded to the criticism stating, “It’s a myth that private schools only serve one type of student”:
In fact, the vast majority of private schools serve a diverse student body, and 30% of private schoolers are people of color. Most private schools keep tuition low – in many cases, far lower than the cost to educate a student in public school. In addition, sixteen states plus D.C. and Puerto Rico have programs specifically for low-income students or students with disabilities to access a private school education. Sweeping generalizations about public and private schools are often untrue and never helpful to the mission of keeping all students learning during and beyond this pandemic.
Johnson pressed on ABC News’ GMA3 show the funds should be given to all schools, whether public or private, “in proportion with the percentage of Title I eligible students.”
“She’s trying to increase allocation disproportionately for private schools over public schools in the midst of the debate over whether or not schools should reopen. It’s horrific what she’s doing,” he said. “What will happen is you further take money away from children who are financially in need to benefit high-wealth children.”
The NAACP filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of low-income families with children in public schools. School districts in Pasadena, California, and Stamford, Connecticut, joined the lawsuit.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, and the attorneys general of Michigan, Maine, New Mexico, and Washington, D.C., as well as the boards of education of Chicago and Cleveland, and the New York City Department of Education, have all filed a similar lawsuit against the USED.
In SC today with Governor @henrymcmaster who knows students need to be able to safely return to school this fall and parents need options to make that happen. Thanks to his leadership, $32M in #CARESAct funds will go to low-income SC families to find the right fit this fall. https://t.co/h9HhciFCbo
— Secretary Betsy DeVos (@BetsyDeVosED) July 21, 2020
Gov. Henry McMaster (R) of South Carolina, however, tweeted Tuesday, “We must give parents the choice in how they want their children educated.”
“Whether that is sending them back to school for in-person learning, or keeping them home for virtual learning, they should be able to make that choice with confidence,” the governor added.
DeVos tweeted her support for McMaster’s decision to allow $32 million in CARES Act funds to go to low-income families in his state to choose the education option that best suits them.