Richmond Public Schools and others in the state are already suffering from budget shortfalls due to the coronavirus pandemic, and now officials say new guidelines from Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos could make matters worse.
Congress approved about $13.5 billion in relief funding for elementary and secondary schools, which was primarily meant for public schools. The money was supposed to be sent to school districts based on the number of low-income students they have.
Instead, DeVos allocated the funding in a way that encourages states to create “microgrants” that parents can use to pay for private school tuition. DeVos has also directed school districts to share funding that was intended for low-income students with private schools that often don’t need the funding. Low-income students make up only 5% of the private school population, compared to 52% of public school students.
Rep. Robert Scott (D-Va.), who chairs the House Education and Labor Committee, said the guidelines favor rural areas and states that are friendly to using vouchers for private education instead of areas that have been hard-hit by the coronavirus.
“This program design is indistinguishable from a standard voucher scheme and is the latest attempt by this department to promote privatization initiatives against both the wishes of the American people, and the intent of Congress,” he wrote to DeVos.
School superintendents in 62 cities sent a letter to DeVos through the Council of the Great City Schools, of which the Richmond School District is a member, calling on the department to allocate more funding for public schools in the next round of coronavirus funding.
“The down payment you made in our public education system by allocating some $13.5 billion in the CARES Act for our schools was a critical lifeline for public education in this country. But we now urge you to provide a second, substantially larger installment for public school systems as you work on the fourth supplemental appropriations bill,” they wrote.
The superintendents noted that the coming months will look very grim for local public schools if the government does not step in and provide additional funding. Many of the revenue streams public schools rely on will be winnowed down due to the pandemic leaving schools with even less funding than under regular circumstances. They estimate a total of 275,000 teachers would need to be laid off in big city schools alone.
“These budget cuts will mean teaching staff will be laid off, class sizes will balloon, andremaining teaching staff will likely be redeployed into classes and subjects that they may not be used to teaching
all at a time when they will be asked to address unprecedented unfinished learning from the last school year,” they wrote.