Statement of Raymond C. Pierce, President of Southern Education Foundation:
Southern Education Foundation Supports Efforts to Ensure Federal Pandemic Relief Funding for Public Schools is Not Diverted to Private Schools

July 8, 2020 (Atlanta, Georgia) — The Southern Education Foundation released the following statement from its President and CEO regarding the lawsuit being filed by six attorneys general in opposition to the interim final rule issued by the U.S. Department of Education regarding CARES Act funds for education:

This Fall, more than 20 million students will be enrolled in public schools in the South. That’s more than any other region of the country. Yet, not a single southern state has joined the lawsuit being brought by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and five other attorneys general (in Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia) to prevent the Trump Administration’s efforts to siphon crucial federal pandemic relief dollars intended for public schools to wealthy private schools.

The attorneys general who filed the suit rightfully point out that the U.S. Department of Education’s interim final rule related to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act undermines Congress’ intent in writing the CARES Act and diverts money from schools, students and families that most desperately need that support and sends it to private institutions that do not.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the deep and persistent disparities in our nation, including a significant and troubling digital divide that is undermining the learning of tens of thousands of children as the pandemic has forced learning to go online. The money allocated by Congress through the CARES Act was intended specifically to address this and other devastating effects of the pandemic on students and schools that most need those resources to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.

Of the $13.2 billion allocated by Congress for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, more than $5.3 billion was allocated for public schools in the South. Recent reports from several organizations – including The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT Data Book, a working paper on academic achievement from Brown University’s Annenberg Institute, and a report on the digital divide and distance learning gaps from Common Sense Media and Boston Consulting Group, as well as a brief prepared by the Southern Education Foundation – underscore the need for that funding.

There could not be a worse time for such a misguided effort to undermine public education and the students, families, and communities that rely on it. It is the responsibility of state government to stand up for and defend the rights and well-being of a state’s residents. Those rights and well-being are under attack right now and we urge attorneys general across the South to consider the potential impact of draining our public education system of crucial funds specifically allocated to it in this time of crisis.

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Originally founded in 1867 to educate Black children and children from low-income families in the South, the Southern Education Foundation was a pivotal source of research and data to support legislation and litigation aimed at fighting inequity in education during the civil rights era. The organization today conducts leadership development, research, and advocacy to improve educational opportunities for low-income students and students of color and achieve educational equity in the Southern U.S. It is based in Atlanta, Georgia. Find out more at www.southerneducationfoundation.org.