Equitable services guidance on CARES Act funds

U.S. Department of Education provides answers to questions about implementation of the CARES Act and its equitable services stipulation for local educational agencies receiving funds
By: | May 8, 2020
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The U.S. Education Department released new non-regulatory guidance on April 30 on the requirement for local educational agencies to provide equitable services using K-12 Education Stabilization Funds in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, Pub. L. No. 116-136.

Providing Equitable Services to Students and Teachers in Non-Public Schools Under the CARES Act Programs, 120 LRP 13990 (EDU 04/30/20), provides answers to questions about implementation of the requirement in Section 18005 of the CARES Act, which specifies that local educational agencies that receive funds under either the $2.95 billion Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund and the $13.23 billion Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund “will provide equitable services” to nonpublic schools in the same manner as required by Section 1117 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act, Pub. L. No. 114-95.

The new guidance document reasons that because CARES Act funds are available to serve all public school students and teachers, equitable services should be provided to all private school students and teachers. “The services that an LEA may provide under the CARES Act programs are clearly available to all public school students and teachers, not only low-achieving students and their teachers as under Title I, Part A,” the guidance says. “Similarly, there is no limitation on residence in a participating Title I public school attendance area for services provided in public schools under the CARES Act programs. For CARES Act services to be equitable in comparison to public school students and teachers, it follows that the same principles must apply in providing equitable services to nonpublic school students and teachers.”

ED says that, for the purposes of the CARES Act, the LEA in which the nonpublic school is geographically located is responsible for meeting the equitable services requirements. The guidance says the state educational agency ombudsman responsible for monitoring ESEA equitable services is also responsible for monitoring CARES Act equitable services.

ED notes that “other than statutory and regulatory requirements included in the document, such as those pursuant to the authorizing statute and other applicable laws and regulations, the contents of the guidance do not have the force and effect of law and are not meant to bind the public in any way.”

Following is a sampling of information addressed by ED in the new FAQ:

Determining proportional share: Under the CARES Act programs, the LEA should calculate the proportional share based on the number of all children enrolled in each nonpublic school whose students or teachers participate in the CARES Act programs compared to the number of all students enrolled in public schools in the LEA. The LEA makes this determination under GEER and ESSER separately. Because an LEA determines the proportional share based on total enrollment in public and nonpublic schools under the CARES Act programs, the LEA need not collect poverty data from nonpublic schools. An LEA must use the total allocation it receives under each CARES Act program to determine the proportional share available for equitable services before reserving funds for other purposes.

Obligating funds: An LEA must obligate CARES Act funds for equitable services in the fiscal years for which those funds are intended for services to address the impact of COVID-19. Supplement, not supplant does not apply to CARES Act funds, and they may be used to benefit all students and teachers in nonpublic schools.

Eligibility for services: An LEA must offer to provide equitable services under the CARES Act programs to students and teachers in all nonpublic schools located in the LEA, even if a nonpublic school has not previously participated under Title I, Part A or Title VIII of the ESEA. Equitable services under the CARES Act programs are not based on residence in a participating Title I public school attendance area and are also not limited only to low-achieving students and their teachers.

Charles Hendrix covers education funding and other Title I issues for ESEA Now, a DA sister publication. Documents noted above are available to subscribers.