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A Victory for Students and Parents: SPLC, allies win case blocking DeVos from diverting COVID-19 relief funds away from public schools

A federal court has sent a clear message to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos: You cannot use a national crisis as an excuse to advance your education privatization agenda by siphoning desperately needed COVID-19 relief money away from public schools.

Along with co-counsel, the SPLC filed suit in July on behalf of the NAACP, as well as public school parents and school districts from across the country, after DeVos and the U.S. Department of Education (USED) issued an illegal rule to divert substantial federal emergency aid intended for public schools to private schools.

And on Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Dabney L. Friedrich ruled that DeVos and USED violated the language of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act – to the detriment of underserved children in public schools, including children from low-income families, children with disabilities, children of color and English language learners. The decision vacated the USED rule nationwide.

Without the work of the SPLC and its partners, DeVos’ illegal rule may not have been overturned – and millions of public school students across the country would have felt the impact. This ruling was a victory, but so much work remains to be done, in education and across all of the SPLC’s other issue areas.

The CARES Act specifically required school districts to apportion emergency relief funds for private school services “in the same manner” as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the country’s primary federal education law. But instead, DeVos’ illegal rule gave school districts two options: 1) significantly increase the amount of funding to be diverted to private schools based on a new and inequitable apportionment formula, or 2) face onerous restrictions on how districts could spend their relief money – harming the children and families who need help the most right now.

In this huge victory for public school students across the country, the judge’s decision invalidated DeVos’ rule, saying it was not what Congress intended. Now, public schools will receive the full amount of federal aid to which they are entitled and the resources they need to support their students and keep them safe, nourished, healthy and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Public schools are open to all, serve the vast majority of children across the country and are accountable to our communities – yet are often severely underfunded. Our public schools are struggling during the pandemic to provide meals to students, access to technology and internet to continue remote learning, social and emotional supports, and PPE to their staff and students. They need our support, and the support of all levels of our government, now more than ever. That’s why the SPLC filed this suit – in collaboration with its national Public Funds Public Schools campaign partners Munger, Tolles & Olson, LLP, and Education Law Center – and that’s why this ruling is such a consequential one.

Public schools need more, not fewer, resources – period. With your support, the SPLC is holding DeVos and USED accountable and keeping public funds where they belong – in public schools.

Will you make a donation today to support the SPLC’s fight for justice in the classroom and in all the other arenas in which we work?

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