‘His cruelty knows no bounds’: City sues Trump White House over education fund shift

Guardians pick up students after school in front of P.S. 195, Manhattan Beach School, at Manhattan Beach, New York, on June 8, 2015. ?By Yeong-Ung Yang

New York City is going to court to challenge President Trump’s plan to withhold federal funding from school districts in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The city’s Department of Education has joined a nationwide lawsuit against the federal Department of Education and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos seeing to stop a new rule that would allow the federal government to divert funding available to schools through the CARES Act. 

According to Mayor Bill de Blasio, the city stands to lose at least $53 million due to a rule that the city maintains is in violation of the CARES Act, the Administrative Procedure Act and the Constitution. 

“President Trump has already botched his response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and now he is threatening to take millions of dollars in aid away from vulnerable students in our public schools,” said  de Blasio in a July 17 announcement. “His cruelty knows no bounds. A safe and successful school reopening requires support from all levels of government, not playing politics with our kids.”

NYC Corporation Counsel James E. Johnson said the new federal Education Department rule would worsen “the challenges and inequities our students face right now that have been made worse by the pandemic.”

The city’s Department of Education was slated to receive $717 million in relief through the CARES Act. The act mandates distribution of the funds through a long-standing Title I formula in which private and public schools receive funding in proportion to the number of low-income students in a school district.

But the Education Department rule change would give states and school districts a choice of either allocating CARES Act funds based on their number of low-income students — but the funds must only be used for schools that specifically qualify for Title I funds. 

The city estimates that would deprive its Department of Education of an estimated $100 million in funding earmarked for more than 250 public schools and related student services — including transportation, facility maintenance and food services.

A second option would allow for distribution of CARES Act funds without going by the Title I formula recognizing students regardless of income status or residency. The city argues that would siphon away $53 million in funding from public to private schools.

“As the largest school district in the nation, we need more—not less—funding from our country’s leaders whose job it is to support public institutions rather than privatization that benefits the privileged few,” said Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza. “Safe reopening requires all the resources we can get, and we call on the Trump Administration to stop playing politics with our children.”

The other parties to the lawsuit against the U.S. Education Department and DeVos include the states of Hawaii, Maryland, Michigan and Pennsylvania; the city of Chicago; the Cleveland Municipal School District Board of Education; and the San Francisco Unified School District. The attorneys general of California and Michigan filed the lawsuit on July 17 at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, in San Francisco.

School funding through the CARES Act has also been upheld as the Trump administration attempts due to new Education Department rules that, according to New York State Attorney General Letitia James, aim to deprive foreign students from receiving help. 

James is one of a coalition of 19 attorneys general that have called upon the U.S. Education Department to release the funds immediately.

““Not only did the president try and use student visas to implement his xenophobic agenda, but now he’s holding emergency funds hostage in an effort to squeeze these students out,” James said in a Friday statement. “Without a doubt, this rule undermines the fundamental purpose of the CARES Act and exacerbates the economic harms our students are facing because of COVID-19. Congress clearly allocated these funds to help all students struggling economically as a result of the coronavirus, including international students, so our coalition will use every tool at our disposal to fight this illegal and manufactured rule that targets immigrants.”

On Friday, Governor Andrew Cuomo also took issue during a conference call with reporters over the remarks from the president’s press secretary that “the science should not stand in the way” of schools reopening this fall.

“No, the science governs. The science wins,” Cuomo said in response, telling reporters he feared a second wave of COVID-19 cases in New York — sparked by the massive increase of infections across the United States — is inevitable.

“They (the Trump administration) are continuing in the misguided path they have taken from day one,” Cuomo added. “They’ve denied the virus, the virus won. They’ve denied science, science won. They denied the need to take the necessary precautions recommended by every health official, and the virus won. They continue on a losing strategy, and the people of this country pay the price.”

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