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DeVos, Education Department give Michigan $89M in COVID-19 relief grants

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Michigan's governor is expected to get $89.4 million in education block grants from the federal government to ensure education continues for all students impacted by the coronavirus, according to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

DeVos announced Tuesday that nearly $3 billion will be made available to governors across the nation as part of the Governor's Emergency Education Relief Fund, authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The "extraordinarily flexible emergency block grant" is designed to enable governors to decide how best to meet the needs of students, public and non-public schools, postsecondary institutions and other education-related organizations during the widespread shutdown schools, DeVos said.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos addresses question from the Detroit News editorial board on Friday, Sep. 20, 2019, as part of her Back To School Tour.

"Governors have the opportunity to truly rethink and transform the approach to education during this national emergency and ensure learning continues," she said in a statement.

"At a time when so many school boards and superintendents have shut down learning for the balance of the school year, I want to encourage each and every governor to focus on continuity of education for all students."

The announcement comes a day after Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer accused DeVos and her family of supporting a scheduled Wednesday protest at the state Capitol where organizers planned to surround it in their vehicles in protest of tighter restrictions in Whitmer's latest stay-home extension order.

Whitmer contended the group organizing the rally — the Michigan Conservative Coalition — is backed by the DeVos family. A DeVos family spokesman said the family wasn't spending any money on the demonstration, but a family-funded group known as the Michigan Freedom Fund did take out a Facebook ad to promote the event. 

"I think it's really inappropriate for a sitting member of the United States president's cabinet to be waging political attacks on any governor," Whitmer said at a Monday press conference. "I think they should disavow it and encourage people to stay home and stay safe."

On Tuesday, the Democratic governor issued a statement thanking DeVos-family-owned Amway for contributions of personal protection equipment during the past few weeks: “Amway has really stepped up to help keep Kent County families and health care workers safe during this time. I’m eager to work with them..."

In an effort to get funds to states as quickly as possible, the U.S. Department of Education has streamlined the application process.  An application can be digitally signed and submitted in PDF to the email address GEERF@ed.gov. 

Last week, DeVos announced more than $6 billion will be distributed immediately to colleges and universities nationwide to provide direct emergency cash grants to low-income students whose lives and educations have been disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak.

The funding is available through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

jchambers@detroitnews.com