Michigan joins lawsuit against Education Department over coronavirus school funding

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives a press conference on Michigan's coronavirus response.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives a press conference on Michigan's coronavirus response.
Published: Jul. 7, 2020 at 2:47 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WJRT) - Michigan is joining six other states in a federal lawsuit challenging the U.S. Education Department’s rules for distributing CARES Act funding for schools.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel announced the lawsuit Tuesday filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

They claim the CARES Act says the $13.2 billion earmarked for K-12 schools and colleges should go first to districts with high enrollment of low-income students. But DeVos’ rules require some of the funding to be shared with private schools and more affluent districts, Whitmer and Nessel claim.

“Secretary DeVos has decided to use this public health crisis as another opportunity to advance her personal privatization agenda,” Nessel said. “Instead of sending relief money to the students most in need as required under the CARES Act, she has abused the Department of Education’s rulemaking power to redirect money to private schools.”

Michigan is set to receive $390 million for schools to provide coronavirus supplies. School Superintendent Michael Rice said DeVos’ rules could divert $16 million of that away from public schools.

“This is unacceptable, particularly in the midst of a pandemic and given a significant decline in state revenue,” he said.

Schools can spend the CARES Act money on things like personal protective equipment and remote learning infrastructure. Whitmer said low-income school districts need the additional federal funding to provide adequate protection for staff and students when they return to class amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic this fall.

“We know this public health crisis has created a number of obstacles for our students, educators and families,” she said. “We come together because we have recognized that it is our responsibility to stand up and fight for them.”

California, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Washington D.C. and Wisconsin are partnering on the lawsuit.

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