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Nessel sues DeVos to stop coronavirus funding to Michigan private schools

teacher in classroom

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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