Betsy DeVos Promises to Help Secure HEROES Act Money for Private Schools

May 20, 2020 Updated: May 20, 2020

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said she will help ensure federal aid to be directed towards private and religious schools through the $3 trillion HEROES Act, which has been passed by the House and is stalled in the Senate.

During a Tuesday radio program, host New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan said he was “a little worried” that the latest version of the upcoming federal relief bill does not cover non-public schools. The legislation from House Democrats would provide nearly $60 billion to K-12 schools across the United States, while explicitly stating that no HEROES money would be used to “provide financial assistance to students to attend private elementary or secondary schools” except for students in special education as required by federal law.

“I’m sure you, the President, and Democrats and Republicans who are fair-minded are going to rectify that. No?” asked Dolan.

“Absolutely,” DeVos responded to Dolan. “And I know that there’s been a pause in consideration of an additional package. I think rightfully so.”

“We will continue to be engaged in those discussions, and the White House and the President are really committed to fighting for the opportunities for these children to be able to continue in the schools their families have selected,” she added.

DeVos’ promise comes amid a recent outcry from public school advocates who argue that a guidance (pdf) from her department goes against the intent of Congress in disbursing federal funds in CARES Act, which made available over $13 billion to help K-12 students continue their education disrupted by the public health emergency.

Most of the CARES Act money is being distributed to school districts using the Title I formula, meaning that districts with more students from low-income families are getting more relief money. In the April 30 guidance, however, DeVos instructed districts to also set aside a portion of the CARES money to support students in private schools based on total enrollments, rather than just the number of low-income students.

“Under the CARES Act programs, services are available for all students—public and non-public—without regard to poverty,” the guidance read.

States reacted differently to the guidance. Kentucky and Tennessee said they would follow the guidance, allowing CARES money to flow through public schools to private schools based on overall enrollment. By contrast, education officials in Indiana and Maine said they would distribute funds based on their own interpretations of the CARES Act and prioritize low-income students, no matter what schools they attend.