Education department backs off change that would have cut rural school funding

March 6, 2020
More than 800 schools were in danger of losing thousands of dollars from the Rural and Low-Income School Program.

Facing a bipartisan backlash led by Republican lawmakers, the Trump administration is backing off a bookkeeping change that would have drastically cut federal funds for rural schools — at least for a year.

The New York Times reports that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will allow states to more easily qualify for funding under the Rural and Low-Income School Program. Hundreds of districts had faced cuts when the department abruptly began using eligibility requirements it had not enforced in 17 years.

The department had discovered that schools were receiving funding based on the number of students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals rather than poverty data from the census, as is required by law.

[ EARLIER: Education department decision cuts funding to many rural schools ]

After protests were raised, DeVos determined that she had the authority to allow the use of alternative data for an additional year. Angela Morabito, a department spokeswoman, says the education department also has proposed language for Congress to amend the law and permanently change the data source used.

The change in requirements would have kicked an estimated 800 schools out of the program next school year, and superintendents were bracing for budget cuts ranging from $30,000 to $100,000.

The department’s decision to reverse course came hours after 21 senators,13 of them Republicans, signed a bipartisan letter urging DeVos to abandon the new methodology. The senators said the decision was abrupt and would “force many rural school districts to forgo essential activities and services.”

The move was praised by the AASA, the School Superintendents Association, which had protested the cut.

“It was wise of Secretary DeVos to change her mind and reinstate funding that poor, rural districts will need and are relying upon this year,” says Sasha Pudelski, the organization’s advocacy director.

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