Harder Pushes DeVos to Stop Diverting Public School Funding to Private Schools

May 28, 2020
Press Release
Financial Toll from Coronavirus Pandemic Could Lead to 15 Percent Cut in Local Funding, Making Federal Funds More Essential

WASHINGTON – Today, Representative Josh Harder (CA-10) sent a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos asking that she rescind her guidance directing public funds meant for public schools to private ones. Secretary DeVos is notorious for her relentless ideological push to privatize schools and divert public funds to private interests.

More than half of students in Rep. Harder’s district rely on free and reduced lunch at public schools and the schools need robust funding to maintain small class sizes and keep students healthy. Lost local revenue could lead to substantial cuts to public education in places like the Central Valley which is why Rep. Harder recently passed federal funding packages designed to help local schools recover from revenue losses. Unfortunately, Secretary DeVos has pushed this money away from public schools and towards private schools which could result in teacher layoffs and unsafe school conditions.

“The money allocated to schools in the CARES Act is based on the number of low-income students a district serves, much the same way the Federal government allocates Title I funding. Under Title I, low-income private schools could also receive funding,” said Alice Pollard, Chairperson, Stanislaus County Board of Education. “Secretary DeVos is attempting to circumvent the intent of the CARES Act by funding private schools based solely on the number of students served.  This could take money away from districts that desperately need the funding.  Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican Chair of the Senate Education Committee, stated: "I thought, and I think most of Congress thought, that money from the CARES Act would be distributed in the same way that Title I is distributed."   In Stanislaus County, school districts have a large percentage of low-income students.  Our school districts could conceivably  lose much needed funding to wealthy private schools in Atherton and the Silicon Valley.”

 

The text of the letter is below and an original version is available here.

I write today to urge the Department of Education to rescind the guidance issued on April 30, 2020, which directs school districts to divert federal funds intended for the nation’s public school systems to private schools. This decision by your department is unacceptable and is robbing economically disadvantaged students in my district and across the country of the funding they depend on in order to carry out a political agenda that prioritizes wealthy, private institutions.

It is troubling to see that the Department of Education is misusing COVID-19 pandemic emergency relief funds to enact policies motivated by a broader political agenda. These actions do not reflect the intent of Congress when passing the CARES Act. Furthermore, the guidance issued by your department is irresponsible given the current condition of state budgets across the country. Current projections by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) show state revenue shortfalls could ultimately reach 10 percent in the current fiscal year (FY) and as much as 25 percent in FY21.

Schools and the students they educate in my district have been hit hard economically as a result of the financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Reductions in tax revenue caused by the COVID-19 pandemic could result in budget cuts that would equate to a 15 percent reduction in funding per student in my district and across the state and will likely mean larger class sizes, layoffs, and pay cuts. Over half of our student population in Stanislaus County qualify for free/reduced lunch, indicating many students and their families come from lowincome households who depend on our public school systems in the Central Valley not just for food, but also, childcare, healthcare and mental health counseling. Your department’s irresponsible actions places those valuable services in danger of being taken away from the students in my district who need them most. 

It is imperative that you rescind your guidance and direct districts to allocate funding from the CARES Act to be distributed in the same manner as Title I funding. I look forward to your response to this critical matter.