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DeVos publishes more virus assistance referral rules to private schools

The Trump administration proceeded on Thursday with a policy of ordering public schools across the US to share the coronavirus aid fund with private schools at a higher rate than required by federal law.

According to a new rule issued by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, school districts were ordered to allocate some of their help to private schools using a formula based on the total number of private school students in the area.

The policy was discussed by public school officials, who said it should be shared by the number of low-income students in local private schools instead of total enrollment. The congress is shared in this way with private schools, in accordance with other federal rules referred to in the legislation establishing aid assistance.

However, on Thursday, DeVos said the fund is separate from other federal aid and aims to support all students.

“There is nothing in Congress that would allow laws to discriminate against districts and children based on attendance and employment,” DeVos said in a call to journalists.

The difference between the two formulas is tens of millions of dollars. For example, in Louisiana, private schools are estimated to be at least 267% more under the formula of DeVos. At least 77% of the state’s allowance was allocated to private schools in the Parish district of Orleans.

The Education Department published the rule through a process that is often used in emergencies and immediately gave the power of law to politics. DeVos said there was an urgent need for action after dozens of private schools were permanently closed due to the epidemic. He described it as a “dizzying crisis” for the country.

DeVos has been a supporter of private schools for a long time and has been supporting school choice throughout his career. Since last year, it plans to provide tax credits for scholarships that send students to private schools or other educational options. He and Vice President Mike Pence supported the plan on Tuesday at a school election event in Wisconsin, but the measure has not yet won traction at the Congress.

The new rule largely reflects the guidance that DeVos, published in April, told the districts to share aid assistance according to the total number of private school students in their district. However, the new rule provides an exception: Public schools can use the low-income formula if their own aid benefits are entirely used by the region’s low-income students.

The money allocated for private schools should be used to provide “fair services” to their students, including buses, counseling, tutoring and summer programs.

Any private school can request support from its local area, but the new rule calls on richer schools to reject it. The policy says that taxpayer financing should not go to “boarding and day-to-day schools with education and fees comparable to those charged by the most elite post-secondary institutions”.

Democrats and public school officials denounced the rule, saying that it gave private schools a disproportionate share of aid. The representative is the head of the House education committee, D-Va. Bobby Scott urged DeVos to withdraw and “comply with the law that Congress came into force”.

Rep. Bobby Scott
Rep. Bobby ScottAP

“The department should provide clear leadership and guidance to help students, parents and school districts cope with the impact of the epidemic. Instead, he issued another confusing directive that would undermine efforts to maintain access to education during this epidemic. ”

DeVos promised to follow a federal rule on the issue, after saying that they would ignore some states’ guidance before. Indiana’s education chief said that guidance is not more than a recommendation, and she decided to divide the fund “according to the intention of the Congress and a clear reading of the law.”

The dispute is centered around a single passage in the federal aid bill, which spends $ 13 billion for the country’s schools. Legislation said that public schools should allocate funding to provide “similarly” services to private schools under Title I, a federal funding program for low-income schools.

Public school officials say Congress explicitly wants to transfer the low-income distribution formula from the Title I program. Democrats said they had intentions, and Senator Lamar Alexander, the head of the Senate education committee, said most of the Congress is waiting.

However, senior Education Department officials questioned the meaning of the expression “in the same way”, arguing that if Congress wishes to replicate the formula of Title I, it would use the expression “according to its statement”.

Although the rule takes effect immediately, the Education Department will open it for a 30-day public comment to gather feedback.

DeVos is accused of twisting the formula to benefit private schools. On Thursday, the School Managers Association said the rule represents “catching opportunistic money using the pandemic environment to advance the privatization agenda”.

However, DeVos argued that any school was hit by an epidemic and deserved to be relaxed.

“Now it’s time to focus on doing the right thing for all students,” DeVos said.

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