Betsy DeVos’s Ideologically-Driven Coronavirus Response Will Hurt Public School Students

In an opinion piece from Forbes by Scott Sargrad lays out the pitfalls of having ideologs running budgets and the problems with cronyism and corruption in the US Department of Education ...

Betsy DeVos’s Ideologically-Driven Coronavirus Response Will Hurt Public School Students

Scott Sargrad Contributor .... May 15, 2020,12:15pm EDT

Link to Article

In March, Congress passed the CARES Act to provide relief and recovery to individuals, the economy, and states and localities from the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet over the last several weeks, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has made two critical decisions that undermine the intent of this law. Instead, she is using the crisis to promote her long-standing anti-public education agenda of taking resources away from the 90 percent of students that attend public schools and directing them to private schools and private companies. These actions demand an aggressive response from Congress, the Education Department’s Office of the Inspector General, and outside watchdogs.

First, on April 27, the Education Department invited states to submit applications for a new $180 million grant competition using CARES Act funds. Congress specifically directed the Department to provide resources to the states most significantly impacted by Covid-19, for activities like mental health supports to students, school meals, and public health coordination. Yet DeVos’s competition does not allow funding to be used for any of these crucial activities, and instead prioritizes what she calls “microgrants” for parents. These microgrants are simply another vehicle to promote what are known as education savings accounts—a form of school vouchers that take money out of the public school system and funnel it into private providers. To make matters worse, states would not have to target the microgrants based on need, opening the door for this critical relief funding to go solely to wealthy parents with the time and ability to apply for funding. The competition does also allow states to propose using the funds for statewide virtual school programs or for other remote learning strategies, but it is clear that DeVos sees the CARES Act as an opportunity to advance her pro-voucher agenda even when Congress has repeatedly declined to fund her proposals.

Not only is DeVos’s response tone-deaf to the urgent needs that schools are facing, she is also attempting to steer funds to her political allies by favoring states that already have these voucher-like programs and pushing more states to set them up. While President Trump has so far only threatened to withhold aid to states whose governors don’t treat him well, DeVos is looking to make good on that threat: of the five states with active education savings account programs, four of them are led by Republican governors, and all five were won by Trump in the 2016 election.

What’s more, just a few days later, the Department released guidance for states and school districts on the obscure-sounding but important topic of equitable participation for private school students in programs funded by the CARES Act. In many federal programs, school districts are required to provide services to eligible students who attend private schools. For example, under the Title I program, children from families with low incomes that attend private schools are entitled to receive similar supplemental services that these children would receive in public schools. Beyond the CARES Act’s education provisions, private schools are also eligible for loans under the Paycheck Protection Program, which should support those schools struggling with missed tuition payments—but has benefited wealthy schools with significant endowments.

College Signing Day Is For All Students—Especially Transfers

However, DeVos’s new CARES Act guidance goes far beyond the intent of the law and dramatically expandshow much money school districts would be forced to spend on private school services. Louisiana, for instance, estimates that it will have to spend $31.5 million of its CARES funding on private school services, rather than the $8.6 million it would spend if the CARES Act guidance was based on the share of students from families with low incomes. According to the Council of Chief State School Officers, in Orleans Parish alone, more than three-quarters of CARES funding would go to services for private school students. For purely ideological reasons, DeVos is punishing public school students and denying them the resources Congress provided.

To be sure, it is within an administration’s purview to set priorities for grant competitions and issue guidance. The Obama administration set priorities for the Race to the Top program as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. But priorities and guidance must be consistent with the law, and the four policy cornerstones of Race to the Top were very explicitly authorized in ARRA. The DeVos administration, on the other hand, is going far beyond the boundaries of CARES to push its unrelated agenda. Even some supporters of private school vouchers agree that DeVos’s grant priorities are a bridge too far. The CARES Act does establish several clear mechanisms for oversight of the law’s implementation, two of which are directly relevant to the Education Department’s actions. The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee includes the Education Department inspector general, as well as at least eight other agency inspectors general. Within Congress, the House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis, chaired by Rep. Jim Clyburn, will have the power to investigate the use of CARES funds. Still, this oversight could be too late to make sure public school students receive the support they need. Fortunately, the House of Representatives recently introduced the HEROES Act. Along with providing additional resources for pandemic response, this legislation would revoke DeVos’s authority to conduct her voucher-like grant competition and eliminate her private-school friendly guidance.

At stake is more than $13 billion in K-12 education funding under CARES—not to mention the nearly $60 billion proposed in the HEROES Act—and Betsy DeVos looking for any opportunity to funnel these resources to private schools. The federal government must make sure that public money goes to public schools to help them begin to recover from this crisis.


Add your own comment (all fields are necessary)

Substance readers:

You must give your first name and last name under "Name" when you post a comment at We are not operating a blog and do not allow anonymous or pseudonymous comments. Our readers deserve to know who is commenting, just as they deserve to know the source of our news reports and analysis.

Please respect this, and also provide us with an accurate e-mail address.

Thank you,

The Editors of Substance

Your Name

Your Email

What's your comment about?

Your Comment

Please answer this to prove you're not a robot:

5 + 1 =