Nessel sues DeVos to stop coronavirus funding to Michigan private schools

teacher in classroom

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wants more CARES Act funds to go to private schools. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is taking her to court. (Shutterstock)

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel joined attorneys general in several states Tuesday to sue U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos over how much CARES Act money is split between public and private schools.

At stake is $16 million in federal pandemic funds, part of $390 million set aside for pandemic costs accrued by Michigan schools.

Most districts would see negligible difference in their CARES Act relief funds, but Detroit Public Schools Community District and Grand Rapids Public Schools would each lose $2.6 million  in funds not yet distributed to schools under DeVos’ distribution formula, Nessel said.

“Because of the anticipated financial challenges (facing Michigan schools), we have to fight for every single dollar,” Nessel said at a news conference Tuesday.

The lawsuit alleges that DeVos created rules for distribution of the funds that were different from those in the CARES Act itself. According to the law passed by Congress and signed by the president, school funds are to be distributed based on the percentage of low-income students in a school, with more funds going to “Title I” schools, which have a high percentage of students in poverty.

The U.S. Department of Education created a distribution formula that diverted a share of those dollars to private schools.

“This is unacceptable, particularly in the midst of a pandemic and given a significant decline in state revenue,” State Superintendent Michael Rice said of the DeVos formula at a news conference Tuesday.

Angela L. Morabito, press secretary for the U.S. Department of Education, said in a statement after the lawsuit was filed that “while the Department does not comment on pending litigation, the Secretary has said many times, this pandemic affected all students, and the CARES Act requires that funding should be used to help all students. 

“There is no reasonable explanation for debating the use of federal funding to serve both public and private K-12 students when federal funding, including CARES Act funding, flows to both public and private higher education institutions.”  

Joining Michigan in the lawsuit are the attorney general offices of California, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Maine and the District of Columbia

Nessel said the group would ask for a temporary restraining order that would attempt to halt DeVos’ rules from going into effect.

“Secretary DeVos has decided to tip the scales in favor of private schools, leaving the state’s public-school students behind,” Nessel said.

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Barry Visel
Tue, 07/07/2020 - 6:21pm

How can you sue a Department or Secretary that has no Constitutional standing? Article 1, Section 8 (nor any subsequent amendments) provides no authority for the Federal government to be involved in education, notwithstanding the side door attempt of Congress, the President and the Courts to allow it anyway.

Tue, 07/07/2020 - 10:23pm

Spending public funds on private schools is a slippery slope since you can't discriminate. For example, if a Satanic school wanted public funds, you'd have to give it to them. Also, if the Society for the Advancement of Marxist Hedonism wanted public funds to educate their kids, you'd have to give the bucks to them also.

I want my tax dollars to be spent on public schools and only public schools.

view from kzoo
Wed, 07/08/2020 - 10:45am

Then I assume you're okay with parents who choose private schools to be able to withhold their tax dollars from the government schools they found inferior. Or better yet, receiving vouchers to replace their squandered tax dollars.

Wed, 07/08/2020 - 1:58pm

This is a non sequitur. Parents of public school students aren't paying taxes as some sort of disjointed billing system for services their children receive. We all pay taxes for public schools because having an education available for all students benefits everyone.

I've never had a house fire, but I still benefit from having a well-funded fire department. I have no children, but I still benefit from having the kids in my neighborhood be educated. As does everyone.

Teach Children Well
Sat, 07/11/2020 - 9:37am

No kidding. Public education is for the common good. People without children have to pay school taxes too. It's isn't just a matter for snobs like "the view" to decide where they choose to send their children and get a tax refund. I taught for many years at a community college and my students who attended public schools consistently were much better students than those who attended a very pricey and prestigious Catholic high school that supposedly had a difficult entrance exam. I'm so tired of the GOP cliche that public schools are bad and private schools are better. It's just not true. Many rich families just make donations to private schools and the teachers give their children good grades whether they earn them or not. It's not a meritocracy, more plutocracy. I guess in that regard the experience prepares them well for adult life in Trump's America.

Wed, 07/08/2020 - 2:51pm

The key word here is "choose". Those parents are choosing not to utilize their tax dollars. They are not squandered tax dollars. Careful, your small-minded greed is showing.

Michigan Observer
Wed, 07/08/2020 - 4:45pm

CY says, "They are not squandered tax dollars. " Those dollars came from the parents, and they are the best judges of where their education dollars should be spent. Individual citizens are always the best judges of where their money should be spent. When it comes to "public goods" like defense, public safety, infrastructure, and parks, where and how money is to be spent, it is necessarily a political process. That is an unavoidable reality, but money spent through the political process is always spent less productively and wisely than money spent privately by citizens. Education is not a "public good". Things work much better when the government's role is limited to providing financing, but allowing citizens to decide how it is best spent.

middle of the mit
Wed, 07/08/2020 - 8:40pm

The tax money came from the parents? What about those who don't have kids? People who don't even live in this State? This is where public school money comes from.

In 1994, the voters of the state of Michigan, by a 69-31 margin, voted "Yes" to do the following:

Increase sales tax revenues from 4-6% with 100% of that 2% to go to the school aid fund.
An increase on use taxes.
An increase on the state education tax assessed on the taxable value of all properties to be set at six mills.
A new real estate transfer tax (0.75%).
Increases on the cigarette tax.

And you now want to take away the sales tax on gas and give it to the roads. Yeah education!

As far as property taxes that go to public schools? Only renters and second homeowners pay those, except in locals that have given up their homestead tax deduction to pay for their public school. They exist! They are few and far between but they are there.

They are called public schools because WE ALL pay for them in some way or another and ANYONE can attend. Wouldn't it be better to invest in what you already have as opposed to just letting it fail or loading it up with debt and then driving them into bankruptcy like a hedge fund manager would do to a corporation?

Sat, 07/11/2020 - 9:41am

Michigan Observer,
Serious question: can you name any country anywhere in the world without public education where you would like to live?

Yes Cy, squandered.
Wed, 07/08/2020 - 4:49pm

Cy, in many cases you can look at the performance of our public schools and say our tax dollars are squandered. Look at the poor performance of the public school system and the success of the students in the public schools vs private schools. Private schools overwhelmingly beat public schools on almost every academic metric. Parents should have vouchers so they may chose to send their child to a school that actually performs well. While there are a small number of public schools that do well, the majority are poor performing (tenure is the major cause of the poor performance).

Sat, 07/11/2020 - 9:57am

Squandered? How about our military? We are being attacked by viruses and cyber crimes. What is our military doing with all the money we give them to protect us? People in foreign countries are stealing our identities and wrecking havoc on our finances. Russia is putting bounties on our soldiers with impunity. Maybe we need to INCREASE public education spending so we don't have such ignorant GOP proposals to decrease funding. A brain is not only a terrible thing to waste. It's a necessary thing to develop. Critical thinking is far more important than developing the cunning proclivities and ability to lie that we see on FOX News and what is coming from the WH.

After so many lies, it's really hard to know what to believe, but the truth is there:

Sat, 07/11/2020 - 10:01am

"Private schools overwhelmingly beat public schools on almost every academic metric." That's just not true, even given the fact that private schools only take those they want.

View From Kzoo
Thu, 07/09/2020 - 10:34am

Sigh. I happen to teach in a local public district. I see, up close, the continually lowered standards, and the lack of real consequences for repetitive bad behavior in the classroom. Why should any parent who wants better for their kid(s) have to pay twice?

Sat, 07/11/2020 - 9:26am

Do you feel that way about military spending or any other government spending?

Jake K
Wed, 07/08/2020 - 11:53am

And I don't want any of my tax dollars being spent to enforce traffic laws. Maybe we can arrange a cafe style tax distribution system where we can individually choose how our tax dollars will be spent. Silly. Come on, EB. Every school child deserves to be supported equally without discrimination as to the "ownership" of the school they attend. And yes...even religiously based parochial schools.

Wed, 07/08/2020 - 7:35pm

“ Society for the Advancement of Marxist Hedonism“

Isn’t that just another name for the NEA?

Sat, 07/11/2020 - 10:51am


Wed, 07/08/2020 - 8:57am

God bless Nessel, God help DeVos, Trump, et al. Mary Trump, Ph.D in clinical psychology, niece of Donald, says in her book Donald Trump is a sociopath. He picked DeVos...

Wed, 07/08/2020 - 9:00am

This article seems pretty one sided. I see no argument for the DeVoss side of the situation. Some reporting on how many Charter Schools are based in "impoverished" areas like Detroit or rural areas should be included. Many poorer people also send their kids to religious based schools as well. And all citizens of Michigan pay school taxes whether they have kids or not, or if they send them to public or private school. That should also be addressed. Journalism both sides of a story as to not be in support of either side.

Sat, 07/11/2020 - 10:54am

But of course, "there are very fine people on both sides". LOL

Sat, 07/11/2020 - 10:59am

I would guess you think it's unfair to denounce the confederate flag that fought against northern aggression to stop slavery too. Every story has two sides.......... We need to preserve that southern heritage symbolized by the rebel flag that nearly ended our country?

Wed, 07/08/2020 - 9:09am

Someone should sue Dana Nessel for continually wasting state money suing for her private war. The CARES Act was passed to support the cleaning of both public and private schools and colleges. Also, many charter schools are located in minority neighborhoods to benefit those parents of minority children who really want them to get ahead. Does the suit indicate that Ms. Nessel is a racist? I don’t know but any one who is trying to take something away from kids is not my favorite person.

middle of the mit
Wed, 07/08/2020 - 11:34am

I will agree with you if we can sue Bill Schutte for continually wasting money suing for things that Republicans sued over.


Then we all call ourselves sue happy!!

Sat, 07/11/2020 - 11:05am

No, Nessel is not a racist. That's a red herring. Those for-profit charter schools aren't educating children any better, but they are sucking our tax dollars to fund them and undermining the ability of public schools to educate ALL students. Public magnet schools are doing much better than charter schools within the public school system.

Wed, 07/08/2020 - 10:13am

Betsy Devos is a puppet and like so many surrounding Trump is not qualified for her appointed job. Taxes for public schools only! Not for private, charter or church based schools. If you choose another option besides public education for your child then find another way to fund it and don't take money away from already depleted public school funds. And if you are going to randomly call people racist, please start with the corrupt leaders in Washington!!

Jake K
Wed, 07/08/2020 - 12:02pm

And why should I be forced to keep putting money into a failing system? If the public school funds are being depleted, perhaps better management is needed. I doubt that you'll keep spending your hard earned money on something...anything that is failing. I'm hoping you'd change something so that your money is not being wasted. Step past the politics and personas and attend to the issues at hand. EVERY child deserves to be supported equally with OUR tax dollars no matter the school involved. If the public school system was top notch, they wouldn't be suffering from student loss to other schooling options.

middle of the mit
Wed, 07/08/2020 - 10:09pm

[[[I doubt that you'll keep spending your hard earned money on something...anything that is failing. I'm hoping you'd change something so that your money is not being wasted.]]]

Thank you for telling us why a Private company would just stop investing in something that is about to fail. Wouldn't it be easier and more cost effective to just fix what you have as opposed to spreading the funds between two struggling schools? Or is there more involved than just a proper education? Like getting rid of liberal indoctrination? I can post Liberal indoctrination. If I posted what was really happening with these mostly conservative charter schools, well..... it wouldn't get posted. And conservatives think they have it hard.

Just read some comments from here or especially the Free Press.

Compare and contrast.

I would post some from the News, but that conservative newspaper doesn't allow comments. I wonder why???


Jake K
Wed, 07/08/2020 - 11:46am

It still amazes me that people can't separate politics from important issues. Of course it's important that all children are treated equally, no matter their school attendance. If a parent determines that the available public schools are not beneficial to their children, they should have equal standing to choose a non-public school alternative without facing financial punishment at the hands of the state. The people haters can't seem to grasp the issues without getting overwhelmed with the personas involved. Nessel, Whitmer, the Teachers' unions public education structure and others complicit in the poor education structure within the state of Michigan are contrary to anything that might challenge the blank check they've had for years of mediocre performance. Such a untethered monopoly should not be allowed to exist. School funding and related tax distribution should be based upon performance, not ownership of the buildings. Nessel and others should not be allowed to determine "their" distribution of "our" funds to "their" favored entities, no matter the current Federal administration or Cabinet members in place.

Sat, 07/11/2020 - 11:13am

You just don't like public education. I don't like our failed military that only fights wars to maintain commercial shipping lines, leaving our borders and citizens completely vulnerable to cyber attacks and disease. Life isn't "fair".

All students matter
Wed, 07/08/2020 - 4:41pm

Apparently Dana Nessel does not care about all students. She only cares about the low income students? This article is misleading. That facts are that the public schools will get the lions share of the funding and the private schools will get a small sliver of what the public schools will get. Do the students in the private schools not matter?

Sat, 07/11/2020 - 11:15am

"Do the students in the private schools not matter?" No, they don't. It's your choice.

Sat, 07/11/2020 - 9:24am

I think Nessel and other state AGs should sue the federal government for violation of the
"establishment" clause:

Michigan churches, synagogues, mosques get millions in federal PPP loans

These wealthy institutions get millions in tax dollars designed to help small businesses while thousands of small businesses get little or nothing and are forced to close. Was the money just a bribe to stop in-person services without the threat of lawsuits regarding "free exercise"? Meanwhile some religious institutions probably took the money and still sued. This is outrageous!

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."