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NAACP Sues Betsy DeVos Over Federal Aid Money For Private Schools

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks during a White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing this month in Washington, D.C.
Manuel Balce Ceneta
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks during a White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing this month in Washington, D.C.

TheNAACP has become the latest organization to sue the Education Department over the distribution of more than $13 billion in federal aid intended for K-12 schools.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued a rule that says if states want to use the funds to provide services for all students, such as tutoring or extra school buses to allow for social distancing, they must also fund "equitable services" for all private school students in the district.

The move is a departure from typical interpretations of federal education law, which usually requires "equitable services" only for low-income students in private schools. DeVos' rule vastly increases the share of federal funding that would go to private school students. Private school students are more likely to be wealthy than public school students, and a majority of private school students are white, while a majority in public schools arestudents of color.

"The Rule is as immoral as it is illegal," the lawsuit says. "In a moment of crisis — when public school districts are called upon to educate their students in unprecedented circumstances, to protect their students and staff from disease, and to feed families who have been plunged into poverty, all with decimated state and local revenues — it is unconscionable for Defendants to siphon away the CARES Act's desperately needed funds for the benefit of more affluent private-school students."

The NAACP's co-plaintiffs are the Pasadena Unified School District in California, Stamford Public Schools in Connecticut and Denver Public Schools in Colorado. A similar suit has been filed by attorneys general in California, Michigan, Maine, New Mexico, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C., joined by school districts in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco and Cleveland.

Educators estimate they will need an additional $200 billion or more to reopen school safely, and the Senate is currently debating a new aid package for schools.

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Anya Kamenetz is an education correspondent at NPR. She joined NPR in 2014, working as part of a new initiative to coordinate on-air and online coverage of learning. Since then the NPR Ed team has won a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for Innovation, and a 2015 National Award for Education Reporting for the multimedia national collaboration, the Grad Rates project.