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Michigan Accuses Education Secretary Betsy DeVos of Funneling Coronavirus Money to Private Schools

— July 8, 2020

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and state Attorney General Dana Nessel have filed a federal lawsuit against Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, claiming the agency has illegally prioritized private schools in the disbursement of coronavirus-related aid.

According to, the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act—or CARES—allocated approximately $13 billion in funding to support schools and school districts across the country. That money was intended to be used for a variety of purposes, most related to disease mitigation and the facilitation of remote learning.

However, Gov. Whitmer’s lawsuit accuses the Department of Education of re-writing CARES Act guidance. Instead of distributing funds equitably and for coronavirus-related purposes, Secretary DeVos has allegedly rerouted much of the money towards private schools.

DeVos—as LegalReader has noted numerous times before—has been repeatedly accused of proffering preferential treatment to for-profit schools and colleges. Shortly after accepting her nomination to the Education Department, DeVos began dismantling investigative units tasked with penalizing predatory private schools. The American Civil Liberties Union noted that, prior to taking her position with Education, DeVos extensively campaigned for the “[elevation of] for-profit schools with no consideration of the severe harm done to traditional public schools.”

Then-state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer delivering a speech in 2011. Image via Flickr/user:swskeptic. (CCA-BY-2.0).

In its lawsuit, Michigan has suggested that DeVos’s arbitrary appropriation of CARES funds was designed with her own political objectives in mind.

“Michigan kids cannot afford for Betsy DeVos to by playing politics with their education,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement last week.

Michigan, adds the Detroit Free Press, received about $390 million in CARES money.

But the Department of Education’s disbursement guidance mandates that $21.6 million of that money goes to private schools.

That figure has been called excessive by Michigan’s governor and attorney general, who say the CARES Act, as written, allocates private schools only $5.1 million of the total.

“Unfortunately, this most recent action by Secretary DeVos is really just another example in a long history of an administration that uses any and every opportunity available to tip the scales in favor of private schools at the great expense of our public schools,” Nessel said.

Whitmer, notes, was also keen to take the federal government to task, saying that public school students have paid their dues and deserve whatever aid was earmarked for them by the national legislature.

“Students have missed out on graduations and proms and seeing their friends at school every day,” Whitmer said. “They’ve done their party to protect one another—now it’s time for the federal government to do their part.”

DeVos, along with other Republican officials, have defended the Department of Education’s approaching, maintaining that CARES money is meant to help all students, regardless of where and how they choose to go to school.

“The CARES Act is a special, pandemic-related appropriation to benefit all American students, teachers, and families impacted by coronavirus,” she said. “There is nothing in the law Congress passed that would allow districts to discriminate against children and teachers based on private school attendance and employment.”

DeVos further said that, because private colleges and universities are eligible for CARES relief, then public primary and secondary schools should be, too.

“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,” DeVos said.

Nevertheless, teachers’ unions and education advocacy groups have signaled significant support for the state’s lawsuits, noting that the coronavirus pandemic has, to date, disproportionately affected minority students and people of color.

“This is a virus that has had a disproportionate impact on low-income students and communities of color,” Whitmer said. “Schools in these areas deserve a government that will support them throughout the crisis.”


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