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Federal judge rules DeVos policy altering private schools' COVID-19 relief is illegal

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos lost a court battle Friday when a judge struck down her department's rule on pandemic relief funding for private schools as illegal. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos lost a court battle Friday when a judge struck down her department's rule on pandemic relief funding for private schools as illegal. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 5 (UPI) -- A federal judge has struck down Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' rule that altered the share of COVID-19 relief funding private schools are allowed as illegal.

U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich, who President Donald Trump nominated to the court, ruled that DeVos violated the CARES Act, which required COVID-19 relief funding to comply with federal statute.

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Section 1117 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 requires that federal funding for private schools be based on the number of low-income students. The CARES Act stipulated that the $13 billion that Congress set aside for K-12 schools in the CARES Act be distributed in that manner.

However, the Department of Education headed by DeVos, a billionaire who has advocated for private school vouchers, altered the funding formula Congress had laid out when it issued an interim final rule in July that said private schools could received the funding "regardless of low-income student population."

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DeVos had argued that the text of the CARES Act was ambiguous, but the judge disagreed.

"In enacting the education funding provisions of the CARES Act, Congress spoke with a clear voice," Friedrich wrote in her opinion Friday. "It declared that relief funding shall be provided to private schools 'in the same manner as provided under section 1117."

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Plaintiffs, including the NAACP, public school parents and school districts across the country, represented by the law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson, along with the Education Law Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center, lauded the ruling.

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"The decision sends a clear signal that Secretary DeVos cannot use illegal means to advance her agenda of funneling scarce public resources to private education, to the detriment of our highest need students in public schools across the country," a partner at Munger, Tolles & Olson said in a statement. "We are particularly grateful that the court issued this decision quickly so that public school districts do not lose any more time in meeting the urgent needs of their students during this pandemic."

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