As some private schools are being forced to close their doors as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, California private school advocates are expressing concern over California’s plan to allocate $1.5 billion in funding it received via the Coronavirus Aid Relief Economic Security (CARES) Act.
According to the State’s interpretation of federal guidelines, local public school districts may be able to ignore federal guidelines for determining how much Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund money must be used to provide services for private school students and educators.
The majority of California’s public school districts stand to receive ESSER funds from the CARES Act. Depending upon which funding formula they use, significantly fewer dollars might be made available for private school “equitable services” relative to a district’s public schools.
“A public health emergency or a virus draws no distinction between a public school student and a private school student,” said California Association of Private School Organizations (CAPSO) Executive Director Ron Reynolds. “It doesn’t serve the public health interest if we take steps to ensure that only a fraction of our schools are safe and healthy places.”
California, and several other states question the federal guidelines, maintaining that the CARES Act requires the formula used to determine the amount of ESSER fund dollars available for equitable services to be based on the number of private school students who qualify for participation in the federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program, or meet another poverty criterion. Public school students in districts receiving ESSER funds need not meet a poverty criterion.
“The hope is that, for the purpose of implementing the CARES Act, private school students and educators are treated equally,” said Reynolds. “The economic fallout from COVID-19 affects all of us.”
The ESSER Funds are currently tied to the State Budget, which the Legislature must pass by June 15.