Another court ruling blocks Education Department's directive on coronavirus relief funding

Sept. 8, 2020
Secretary Betsy DeVos imposed a rule that would have given private schools more funding than Congress intended.

A third federal judge has ruled against U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s plan to direct additional coronavirus relief funding to private schools.

Forbes magazine reports that the ruling by Judge Dabney Friedrich, a U.S. District Judge for the District of Columbia, is the most decisive of the three, not merely imposing an injunction but issuing a summary judgment against the secretary.

The issues: Congress set aside some CARES Act  money to be distributed among public and private schools based on the number of students from low-income families.

DeVos issued first a guidance, then a ruling, that the funds should be passed on to private schools based on total enrollment rather than low-income enrollment. This would have had the effect of steering CARES funds away from public schools and toward private schools.

Multiple lawsuits by states, parents, and various other organizations followed. The rulings have been rolling in for the past couple of weeks.

In Washington state, Judge Barbara Rothstein stated that “the Department’s convoluted reading essentially creates an ambiguity to justify resolving it, thereby thwarting Congress’s obvious intent.” The department, she concluded while declaring an injunction, had no authority to rewrite Congress’s plainly stated intent.

Then, in San Francisco, Judge James Donato also issued an injunction, stating that the department used “interpretive jiggery pokery” to create ambiguity where there was none, suggesting that it’s hard to imagine how anyone could argue otherwise with a straight face.

Judge Friedrich has followed in the same path. In her ruling she states:

"In some statutory interpretation cases, courts must make sense of vague terms, contradictory provisions, or 'inartful drafting.' This is not one of those cases....In enacting the education funding provisions of the CARES Act, Congress spoke with a clear voice...Contrary to the Department’s interim final rule, that cannot mean the opposite of what it says."

About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy, senior editor, has written for AS&U on a wide range of educational issues since 1999.

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