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Michigan joins expedited effort to block DeVos on private school funding

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Amid an expanding lawsuit by some states to block the Trump administration’s appropriation of federal pandemic relief funds for private schools, state Attorney General Dana Nessel joined California Friday seeking an immediate halt to diverting the money from public schools, while a court considers the issues.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel

Hawaii, Maryland, Pennsylvania and the Cleveland, Chicago, New York City and San Francisco public school districts also joined the lawsuit Friday.

The suit, filed July 7 by five states and the District of Columbia, seeks to stop the U.S. Department of Education from using money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to assist private schools.

The states and the schools assert it was not the intent of Congress to use the money on private schools, and the appropriation would unfairly deprive public schools of funding.

They also say the action is unconstitutional.

On Friday, Nessel and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed for a preliminary injunction to prevent federal Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her department from spending the money on private schools while the lawsuit is heard.

Nessel asserted that without immediate court action, DeVos’s unlawful rule, issued to regulate the dispersal of the relief assistance, threatens imminent and irreparable harm to the jurisdictions that brought the suit.

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.

“As a result of the rule, public schools stand to lose significant CARES Act funds at a moment of crisis, directly contrary to the intent of Congress,” Nessel’s office said in a media release.

State school Superintendent Michael Rice has said that non-public schools are entitled to about $5.1 million under the relief law, but would receive $21.6 million by one of the two options in the rule issued by federal education officials.

That would mean about $15 million less for hard-pressed public school districts.

 “Our coalition is growing because this fight to hold Betsy DeVos accountable for abusing the Department of Education’s rulemaking power to redirect money to private schools is critically important to ensure CARES Act funds end up exactly where they belong for our students’ education,” Nessel said, according to the release.

“We cannot reiterate enough that we are navigating through an unprecedented time in this nation and pursuing her own agenda as the nation’s Secretary of Education by contradicting the very intent of Congress will not be tolerated.”

There was no immediate response from the Department of Education or DeVos.