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Will NY private schools receive extra coronavirus relief? State sets timeline for decision.

New York state officials said they will decide in the next two weeks whether to follow federal guidance that would send additional coronavirus relief to private schools.

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A school bus sits outside of a New York City school.

Chalkbeat file photo

New York state officials said they will decide in the next two weeks whether to follow federal guidance that would send additional coronavirus relief to private schools.

State education officials have been speaking to New York’s congressional representatives and to the national School Superintendents Association as they mull how to distribute the roughly $1 billion in federal relief that districts are set to receive, Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa said Monday during the board’s monthly meeting. 

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is recommending school districts shift a portion of coronavirus relief resources to private schools based on total enrollment — something the superintendents association and other public school advocates oppose. Each district’s cut of the federal CARES Act pie was based largely on the Title 1 formula, which sends extra dollars to districts with many low-income students; typically, districts use some Title 1 funds to support services for low-income private school students. 

“On one hand, it’s guidance, on the other hand there are many concerns, again, that the poorest districts will be impacted by this,” Rosa said. 

In New York City, billions of dollars in lost revenue due to the pandemic have driven city officials to propose $827 million in cuts to the education department’s budget through next fiscal year. Next year’s proposed cuts would largely hit classroom instruction, such as through hiring freezes and cuts to individual school budgets, according to an analysis released Tuesday by the city’s Independent Budget Office. 

The federal CARES Act dollars are supposed to help schools deal with costs related to the pandemic, such as buying technology for students who must learn from home. But with New York state facing a budget crisis of its own, legislators in Albany cut state dollars for education and replaced them with the CARES Act money, effectively canceling out those federal funds and leaving the biggest burden on districts with high shares of low-income students.

On April 30, DeVos issued guidance that said private schools should receive CARES Act dollars based on their total enrollment. That means that private schools, which are also facing financial stress, would receive a larger share of the federal relief dollars than was originally anticipated because they generally enroll a smaller share of low-income students, compared to public schools. 

Public school advocates say DeVos’ is misreading the law, but the federal education department has defended its interpretation. Several states have decided to ignore the federal guidance, while at least 10 states have accepted it. DeVos is seeking to make her guidance a rule that states must follow. 

Internally, New York state education officials have created an analysis that shows how following DeVos’s guidance would affect the distribution of CARES Act dollars, Rosa said Monday, and offered to share it with the rest of the board. When Chalkbeat requested that analysis or specific numbers, a spokesperson told Chalkbeat to file an open records request, which it did on Tuesday. 

Last month, the Education Law Center conducted its own analysis based on enrollment data. It estimated that New York City private schools would receive $88 million in CARES Act relief if the district distributed resources based on the number of low-income students. If DeVos’s guidance is followed, private schools would receive $38 million more. 

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