Reimagining Education

CARES Act funding still in limbo for schools

This summer is a critical time for every school in Missouri as districts, charters, and private schools formulate plans for ensuring quality education next year with all of the uncertainties surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

Schools must figure out if it is possible to offer classes in person safely, develop a plan for distance learning if the school has to shut down for a week or two because of a local COVID-19 outbreak, and create an emergency plan in case there is a larger spike in cases resulting in a longer quarantine.

Of course, achieving all of that will cost money. Schools will have to spend more money on technology to enable distance education, cleaning supplies to ensure safety within schools, and personnel costs to provide adequate social distancing and account for staff who may have to stay home sick or for their own safety.

So knowing how much funding the CARES Act will provide to any individual school is vitally important during the planning process this summer.

Unfortunately, both district schools and private schools are currently in limbo on the issue because the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has not yet decided how to provide “equitable services” to students in private schools.

The U.S. Department of Education has been clear on the issue, offering guidance that says, “An LEA must offer to provide equitable services under the CARES Act programs to students and teachers in all non-public schools located in the LEA, even if a nonpublic school has not previously participated under Title I, Part A or Title VIII of the ESEA.”

Unfortunately, a national debate on whether CARES Act funds should instead be tied specifically to students who are eligible for Title I funds has resulted in DESE delaying any decision on how much funding should go to providing equitable services to private schools.

As a result, DESE has decided to only distribute 75 percent of the funding public schools could receive and is setting aside 25 percent to cover the potential cost of funding equitable services for private schools.

The end result is that public schools do not know how much money they will have to work with this fall and non-public schools do not know if they will even receive any disaster relief funding under the CARES Act.

If DESE decides to tie funding directly to Title I, it will create a very complicated and drawn-out process of tracking individual students to their resident districts and could create a lot of work for district schools when they need to be focused on preparing for the challenges of next year.

Additionally, if DESE ignores the guidance from the U.S. Department of Education it could result in private schools filing grievances that could take a long time to resolve which would further draw out the process of any school receiving the critical funding in a timely manner (and since those grievances would be filed with the U.S. Department of Education it is hard to imagine an outcome where the state would not be told to follow the guidance anyway).

We hope DESE will do the right thing and come to a decision on this critical issue sooner than later.

They should pick the easier method of distributing funds and follow the guidance of the U.S. Department of Education to prevent unnecessary delays and additional work for already stretched school staff.

In any other emergency situation we would make sure that we are providing relief aid to all of our residents. This pandemic should be no different.

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