AASA Call to Action: Respond to Equitable Services Rule

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AASA Call to Action: Respond to Equitable Services Rule

Top Line: Sec. DeVos released her interim final rule on equitable services within the CARES Act. We have 30 days to mobilize and weigh in, expressing our concern with and opposition to her interpretation, and our support for the clear-language read of the underlying statute. We have included background (below) and linked to a template response for you to personalize, and included step-by-step directions on how to file (or, if you submit to AASA staff early, we can submit for you). 
Background: Earlier this month, Sec DeVos published an interim rule on CARES Act Funding/Equitable Services in the federal register, starting a 30 day window where the public can file comments. AASA remains deeply opposed to the interim rule and its flawed policy premise, which could potentially transfer an additional $1.3 billion in funding to private schools beyond what Congress authorized. In the proposed rule, Sec. DeVos doubled down on her flawed interpretation of the equitable services provision, and released a draft interim rule that would codify the practice with the strength of law. In her rule, DeVos continues to conflate allocation of resources with use of resources, in an effort to distract from the fact that her proposal shifts $1.3 billion from public schools to private schools and it inherently inequitable. She frames the CARES Act equitable services resources as a subsidy for private schools to keep them from going out of business/closing, a far cry from the reality of CARES Act funding, which is about getting emergency funding to kids. CARES Act did provide a pathway by which private schools could get support against closures, via the Paycheck Protection Program. DeVos uses the long-standing equitable services mechanism as a money grab to bolster private school coffers, when historically, the program has been about ensuring Title I eligible students are served. The rule gives LEAs choices in how to distribute their K12 CARES Act funding: (From EdWeek)
  • A district can decide to distribute the CARES money only to schools that received Title I for the 2019-20 school year —essentially, those schools with a minimum share of students from low-income backgrounds.
  • If districts choose to distribute aid only to Title I schools, they can use two options to calculate how much money they set aside for equitable services: They can use the same amount for equitable services they set aside for the 2019-20 school year; or they can conduct a count of low-income students in local private schools to determine the proportional share. 
  • If a district distributes aid only to Title I schools, it can't use the CARES money to backfill cuts at the state and local level by moving other funding out of those schools into other schools. That could create a very big incentive for districts not to spend CARES money only on Title I schools, given the huge budget cuts many districts are facing.
  • But if a district distributes CARES aid to schools that didn't receive Title I in 2019-20, then it must calculate the amount it must set aside for equitable services using a count of all local students enrolled in private schools in the district.

Giving the allusion of choice as a cover for a flawed policy proposal is unacceptable. This interim rule reaches into how schools USE their CARES funding—something Congress was crystal clear to make very flexible—so as to force public schools to allocate money from Title I students to private schools. The proposal is anything but choice: if you want to implement equitable services as it has historically been done—and as Congress intended—you can only use your CARES funding in Title I schools. This is a logistical and operational hurdle that unnecessarily complicates the work of safely reopening schools in the fall. And for states where the budget process has moved forward and your state cut their state education funding by the amount of CARES dollars your state received, this all but forces LEAs to set aside the higher proportion to private schools, or to be in non-compliance with supplement, not supplant, as DeVos grossly expanded her authority to apply this provision in the context of CARES. You can read more about her initial non-binding guidance, and check out our talking points on the issue from our recent advocacy conference. 

Call to Action: Using our template response, follow the prompts in the italic, red font. Make sure to include specific numbers to highlight what the dollar difference would mean in your district, and help to bring to life what that cut means: how many teacher salaries is that? How much PPE would you be able to provide for students in school? If you are going hybrid or virtual, how many hotspots or devices would you be able to provide? We want to really bring to light how much this will impact the work schools need to do to open schools safely. Also consider inserting language about how the policy complicates roll out; it adds confusion to the field. Uncertain of how much money a district will have, can you really move forward with implementation? Comments must be filed by July 31, 2020.

Filing Your Comments

  1. Open the template, personalize, and save. Make sure to include district letter head and that all font in the letter is black (remove red italicized prompts).
  2. Clink on the Federal Register/Equitable Services page (HERE)
  3. In the box labeled comment, type “I submit this comment to express my strong opposition to CARES Act Programs; Equitable Services to Students and Teachers in Non-Public Schools 34 CFR Part 76 [Docket ID ED–2020–OESE–0091] RIN 1810–AB59”
  4. Click on the green box that says ‘upload file’ and navigate through to attach your district’s comment.
  5. Fill out the remaining boxes through email address; you can leave everything else blank.
  6. Click/check ‘I read and understand the statement above.’
  7. Click on ‘Submit Comment’.
  8. If possible, please take the time to submit your comment with your Congressional delegation, as well. Our advocacy team would be happy to get you the email addresses for the education staffers for your representative and senators. Contact jasmine Byrd (jbyrd at aasa dot org). 
  9. If you would like AASA staff to file for you, you need to send us your completed comment no later than Wednesday, July 29 5 pm ET.
  10. Questions? Contact Noelle Ellerson Ng (nellerson@aasa.org). 



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