Public schools have been under enormous strain since the coronavirus pandemic caused massive school closures in the spring. It’s a moment in history when the nation needs a strong and nimble education secretary to guide the course.
Instead, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has only one thing on her mind: figuring out how to exploit the public health crisis to advance her political agenda.
DeVos sought to boost the amount of emergency pandemic relief flowing to private schools in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed in March. She issued a rule requiring that more CARES Act funds go to private schools than federal law mandates.
She issued another rule that asserted that only those who can participate in federal student aid programs were eligible for the more than $6 billion in emergency grant aid set aside for college students in that same stimulus package. The new regulation shut out undocumented and international students.
Luckily, the courts stepped in and thwarted her. Several federal judges have issued rulings preventing DeVos from restricting pandemic relief to college students on the basis of U.S. citizenship. In early September, a federal district court judge ruled that DeVos lacked the authority to add her own conditions on the $13 billion in the CARES Act that Congress set aside for K–12 schools.
Charter schools and their management companies also took an extra cut of the stimulus money. They applied for and received at least $925 million from a business loan program set up as part of the CARES Act.
Meanwhile, public schools nationwide continue to get no meaningful support or guidance from Washington, D.C., as the new school year dawns under the shadow of the pandemic.