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UPDATE: AG Nessel announces lawsuit against Betsy DeVos over CARES Act budget

Published: Jul. 7, 2020 at 10:57 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 8, 2020 at 8:21 AM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra are leading a coalition of six attorneys general suing U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for a ruling that would limit the ability of public schools to use federal funds provided under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, according to a news release from the attorney general’s office.

Nessel, along with support from Governor Gretchen Whitmer, filed as the State of Michigan, a Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California over DeVos’s rule, which requires local education agencies to choose between two methods for allocating CARES Act fund, which both contradict CARES Act requirements, the attorney general’s office said.

Nessel’s office said rather than distributing money based on Title I, Part A allocations as required by the Act, DeVos’ rule also makes all private school students “potentially eligible for equitable services funded by CARES Act money.”

Nessel’s office said there’s concern regarding how much federal CARES Act money public school districts must share with surrounding private schools, how public and private schools can use those funds and whether all private school students, including affluent students, are able to receive services intended by Congress to benefit economically disadvantages students.

The attorney general’s office said the CARES Act states districts provide private school students with equitable services in the same manner that is required under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The attorney general’s office said Title I’s formula for private school services requires districts to allocate money based on the number of low-income students in private school, however, Devos’ rule states coronavirus relief money should be distributed based on the total number of students in any private school that wish to participate. The rule also states equitable services be provided to all students enrolled, even affluent students.

“DeVos’ interpretation not only contradicts the plain language of the CARES Act, but could mean that, in districts with large private school populations, public school serving low-income students would receive less relief money, which would instead be diverted to their private school peers,” the press release states.

“Secretary DeVos has decided to use this public health crisis as another opportunity to advance her personal privatization agenda. Instead of sending relief money to the students most in need as required under the CARES Act, she has abused the Department of Education’s rulemaking power to redirect money to private schools. At a time when Michigan schools are facing an unprecedented crisis, every single child deserves the chance to succeed. But, yet again, Secretary DeVos has decided to tip the scales in favor of private schools, leaving the State’s public-school students behind,” said Attorney General Nessel. “The Secretary of Education’s job is to lift up our public schools, not tear them down. Today I’m leading a coalition of six other states to fight DeVos in court and give a voice to our public schools.”

“It’s clear that Betsy DeVos has the wrong priorities when it comes to protecting public education, and it’s time to hold her accountable,” said Governor Whitmer. “Our administration is committed to working with Attorney General Nessel to stand up for Michigan’s students, educators, and families to make sure our tax dollars are supporting public schools.”

The full complaint can be read here.

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