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Private schools eligible for equitable services under CARES Act programs

I previously wrote about the $3 billion in emergency education block grants the U.S. Department of Education made available to state governors. These grants are one pool of money that the CARES Act authorized in the Education Stabilization Fund, and they enable governors to decide how to best meet the education needs of students, schools (including charter schools and non-public schools), higher education institutions, and other educational entities during the COVID-19 crisis. Minnesota is eligible for $43.4 million.

Another pot of money from the CARES Act aimed at helping schools and students amidst the pandemic is the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, totaling $13.5 billion and of which at least 90 percent must be allocated to school districts. State distribution is based on states’ and school districts’ proportional share of Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Title I money for the most recent fiscal year and will be dispersed as sub grants to the local educational agencies. Minnesota is estimated to be eligible for $140 million.

The provisions of the CARES Act state private-school families or private schools are eligible for equitable services in these funding programs. To ensure equitable services, the U.S. Department of Education released new guidance yesterday. Of note:

9. Are all students and teachers in a non-public school eligible to receive equitable services under the CARES Act programs?

Yes. All students and teachers in a non-public school are eligible to receive equitable services under the CARES Act programs, unless a Governor (under the GEER Fund) or an SEA (through the SEA reserve under the ESSER Fund) targets funds for a specific purpose or population of public and non-public school students. Unlike Title I, Part A, equitable services under the CARES Act programs are not based on residence in a participating Title I public school attendance area and are also not limited only to low-achieving students and their teachers.

10 B. What data does an LEA [local educational agency] use to determine the proportional share of funds that must be reserved to provide equitable services to non-public school students and teachers under the CARES Act programs?

An LEA uses enrollment data in non-public schools whose students and teachers will participate under the CARES Act programs compared to enrollment in public schools in the LEA to determine the proportional share. Under the CARES Act programs, services are available for all students—public and non-public—without regard to poverty, low achievement, or residence in a participating Title I public school attendance area.

Despite many private schools serving low- and middle-income communities, there is still debate over providing federal stabilization payments to private schools.

But working to keep private schools from closing ends up benefiting both private and public schools alike, according to the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Because otherwise,“if they close because of this unprecedented crisis, all students—not just those in private schools—will feel the pain.”

…[T]he consequences will be swift and serious:

Students will suffer from an abrupt disruption in learning as they transfer from schools they chose to new school environments.

Local school districts will have to absorb hundreds of thousands—perhaps millions—of students who can no longer afford to pay tuition or have seen their schools close. This will come at a time when districts are facing their own financial uncertainty.

Higher student enrollments in district schools causes a problem for states as well: in a time when they need to reduce spending, states will be forced to send more money to public schools.

As a condition of receiving the grant money, the school must continue to pay its employees and contractors to the “greatest extent practicable” during closures or disruptions caused by the coronavirus. Any unspent money within the year must be returned to the federal government.

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