Steve Hinnefeld writes here about a rare act of courage in a red state. Indiana State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick defied Betsy DeVos and has refused to hand out money from the CARES Act to private schools, without regard to need.
Superintendent McCormick told DeVos to stuff it. For her courage and independence, she goes on the blog’s honor roll.
The good news: In Indiana, at least, public school districts won’t need to worry about Betsy DeVos diverting their anticipated funding to private schools.
DeVos, the U.S. secretary of education, may still succeed in her scheme to use the act to boost funding for even the wealthiest private schools. But the Indiana Department of Education will make up any funds that are lost to public schools.
“The CARES Act was intended to assist those most in need …,” Indiana Superintendent of Public Education Jennifer McCormick told school officials. “COVID-19 has affected everyone, but not equally. It is my responsibility and IDOE’s obligation to ensure those most in need receive the appropriate support.”
The CARES Act, signed into law in late March, provides $215 million to Indiana to help public school districts and charter schools cover costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The act says the funds should be allocated in the same manner as annual Title I grants, with more money for high-poverty schools.
Public school districts must share some of their Title I funds to provide “equitable services” in local private schools, with the amount based on the number of students from low-income families enrolled in the private schools.
But DeVos, in guidance issued in early May, said that CARES Act funding for private schools should be based on their total enrollment, not their enrollment of poor students: presumably a private school with zero poor students would qualify for as much money as a private school where all students are poor.
The guidance was nonbinding; states could ignore it, and Indiana did.
DeVos then doubled down, issuing a rule that would severely restrict how public school districts can use CARES Act funding if they don’t follow her guidance. The rule would have the force of law – if it’s legal. Several states, school districts, parents and the NAACP have sued, arguing that it isn’t.
Meanwhile, the school year is starting, and school districts need to know how much money they can spend. To stave off the uncertainty, the Indiana Department of Education says it will use its own share of CARES Act funds to offset any money that school districts lose, should DeVos prevail in court.