In response to a trio of federal court decisions, the federal Department of Education (DOE) has rescinded regulations that attempted to shift additional stimulus funds to private schools, which would have shortchanged students with disabilities, advocates contended.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, passed by Congress in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, included more than $13.5 billion in funds for schools.
In the bill, Congress provided specific instructions to the DOE regarding how the funds should be distributed. For public schools, Congress instructed the DOE to distribute the funds to school districts based on the number of children they serve. However, for private schools, Congress provided that the DOE distribute the funds based on the number of low-income children they serve.
Nonetheless, the DOE issued regulations on July 1 that sought to erase this distinction by allocating all funds according to general, rather than low-income, student population size. The practical effect of these rules would have been to make an additional $1.5 billion available to private schools.
Since private schools are generally exempt from special education laws, disability rights advocates pushed back against the change. Civil rights groups, including the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), immediately filed multiple federal lawsuits against the DOE.
“It is reprehensible that this administration is pressuring schools to open quickly while simultaneously taking away the very resources that would allow them to do so safely and effectively,” COPAA Legal Director Selene Almazan told Disability Scoop in August. “As America's schools, communities and families are in the midst of an economic and health crisis, now is not the time to deprive millions of public school children the education services they need — including students with disabilities, a population that Congress specifically intended the CARES Act funds to benefit.”
Federal courts in Washington and California ruled, on August 21 and 26, respectively, against the DOE. Then, on September 4, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a sweeping decision striking down the DOE regulations. In the decision, the court ruled that the DOE had no authority to direct funds in a way contrary to the intent of Congress.
Moreover, the court held that Congress had not provided the DOE any authority to make regulations concerning how the funds should be distributed in the first place, and even if it had, the DOE would have had to first solicit public comments before issuing the regulations.
In response, the DOE has now rescinded the regulations. The DOE did not make the decision in a formal announcement or news release, but rather included it in an update about the CARES Act on September 9.
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