INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana education officials on Tuesday instructed local school districts to ignore guidance from the U.S. Department of Education that would have tripled federal pandemic aid to private schools at the expense of public school children.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick said the state “will distribute funds according to Congressional intent and a plain reading of the law. I will not play political agenda games with COVID relief funds. Our most at-risk students depend on this commitment.”
The federal CARES Act provided billions for schools in an education stabilization fund that was to be distributed using the Title I formula – or based on the number of low-income students a school has. Both public and private schools are eligible.
Indiana's K-12 cut is about $215 million.
But Betsy DeVos, the U.S. Secretary of Education, released guidance that directed the money be distributed based on total enrollment instead.
That meant Indiana private schools would have seen their share tripled – from $4.9 million to $15.4 million.
McCormick's letter to Indiana's schools said, “According to the Indiana Attorney General's Office, “the guidance issued by the [U.S.] Department of Education is just that, guidance.”
She added that “This final decision ensures that the funds are distributed according to Congressional intent and a plain reading of the law, which prioritizes communities and schools with high-poverty who are at most risk and in need of the additional funds.”
Public school districts forward the money along to private schools in their boundaries.
Department of Education Spokesman Adam Baker said schools now have to apply to the state, and then seek reimbursement. The department said local districts have to provide evidence that money was sent to non-public schools.
Baker also said that Gov. Eric Holcomb's administration has no say over the money.
“Federally speaking, the Indiana Department of Education is the state education agency, and therefore this decision is within our discretion,” he said.
Fort Wayne Community Schools will receive about $10.2 million; Southwest Allen County Schools $360,000; Northwest Allen County Schools $367,000 and East Allen County Schools about $2.3 million.
The majority of those dollars will stay with the districts after private schools receive their cut.