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California joins six-state lawsuit claiming Betsy DeVos withheld CARES Act funding marked for public schools

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra on Tuesday announced a multi-state lawsuit against the Trump administration, accusing U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos of preventing Covid-19 pandemic relief funding from being dispersed to K-12 public schools.

Becerra argued that DeVos flouted Congress’ intent in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which included $13.2 billion for K-12 schools across the country, about $1.5 billion of which was intended for California public schools.

The CARES Act required educational funding to be dispersed in accordance with Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, ensuring that schools with low-income students would not be passed over.

The lawsuit argues that the Department of Education’s interim final rule mandating that private schools are eligible for pandemic relief funds based on the total population they serve rather than income is antithetical to the CARES Act’s Title I requirement.

During a Tuesday news conference announcing the lawsuit, Becerra said:

“Secretary DeVos has put forward a rule that exceeds her authority and that of the Department of Education.”

Becerra added:

“Ultimately, it’s a shakedown of low-income schools across the country. … Whether it’s President Trump or Secretary DeVos, we won’t stand by when the education of our children and the rule of law are under threat.”

Becerra filed the lawsuit with the attorneys general of Michigan, Maine, New Mexico, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia. The suit is roughly the 85th time the state of California has taken the Trump administration to court.

California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond and Alameda County Office of Education Trustee Angela Norman joined Becerra in announcing the lawsuit as a show of support.

Thurmond said:

“We know that this is the right thing for California students. We know that the will of members of Congress and what they intended in the CARES Act must be followed.”

Norman argued that the interim final rule will not only deprive low-income students in Alameda County from receiving special education services that cost several thousand dollars each year but also baseline services like school lunches and internet access for remote instruction.

She said:

“We need to ensure that our students … get the critical support that they need in order to have equitable learning access. This is about our students and this is about our future.”

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