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Betsy DeVos Admits Defeat in Legal Battle Over Coronavirus Aid


U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos told states her department won't appeal a decision from a federal court that voided her controversial rule governing how public schools had to share coronavirus relief with private school students.

In a Friday letter to chief state school officers, DeVos said the U.S. Department of Education will not appeal a Sept. 4 ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Dabney L. Friedrich that vacated her July 1 interim final rule. In essence, that rule sought to direct significantly more federal coronavirus aid to private school students—under a part of federal law called equitable services—than is typically required.

Public school officials alleged that DeVos was deliberately misinterpreting the CARES Act in order to ultimately provide private schools a federally backed bailout. But DeVos and her team said that Congress intended to help private school students as much as their public school peers in the law, which provided roughly $13 billion in direct coronavirus aid for K-12 schools. The issue has divided the education community for months during the pandemic.

The fight also renewed long-running and intense disputes over the extent to which DeVos supports traditional public schools versus private schools. 

DeVos' July 1 rule gave districts options for how much CARES relief they could set aside for private school students, but incentivized districts to follow guidance she released in April. A total of four federal lawsuits were filed in federal courts to stop the rule. Two judges granted preliminary injunction to halt the rule's implementation before Friedrich, a judge appointed by President Donald Trump, ordered that the rule be vacated nationwide. 

In her Friday letter, DeVos said her department will not appeal the rulings, but she said that private school students and the people they serve still deserve aid and consideration. She stood by her view that Congress never intended for CARES aid to benefit some students but not others, and added that this "did not stop some from suing us, attempting to deny private-school children and teachers help they needed."

"You know as well as I do that many private schools serve disadvantaged, lower income families, and it is bad for these communities when those private schools close," DeVos said in the letter. "Not only does it place a burden on families that chose a different school for their child, but it also places a burden on public schools as well."

With DeVos' rule no longer in effect, schools will still have to set aside CARES money for equitable services, but only to provide support for certain at-risk and disadvantaged students in local private schools, and not based on all students in such schools, as the education secretary had pushed for. 

Photo: Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testifies at a House appropriations subcommittee hearing in February 2020. --Graeme Sloan/Education Week

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