Equitable services under CARES Act

Minnesota offers supports to help school districts clarify issues related to how the federal money can be spent.
By: | November 16, 2020
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To assist school districts in the process of recalculating equitable services under the CARES Act ESSER funds, the Minnesota Department of Education issued an updated guidance on the agency’s website, provided a budget calculator, and offered weekly support labs.

“The main challenge is related to recalculating,” says Ashleigh Norris, MDE assistant director of communications. “Of course, any time rules change it can also create some confusion.”

The way school districts calculate equitable services for eligible private school students under the CARES Act changed when National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. DeVos, 120 LRP 26741 (D.D.C. 09/04/20), vacated the interim final rule. ED published the IFR to outline how districts were supposed to calculate the CARES Act funds, but it was followed by two other major court decisions that directed ED to cease its enforcement of the IFR: State of Michigan v. DeVos, 120 LRP 25403 (N.D. Cal. 08/26/20); and State of Washington v. DeVos, 120 LRP 24841 (W.D. Wash. 08/21/20).

According to Norris, the best practices for school districts to recalculate equitable service amounts include using the provided budget worksheet to calculate the equitable share and continuing to engage in consultation with their nonpublic school partners. She also says that the recommendations Florida is offering to its school districts are in line with how MDE has advised districts to proceed in the state.

“Depending on the context in each state, these recommendations may be applicable outside of Florida,” she says.

Those recommendations from Florida are for:

  1. The local educational agency to consult with private school officials on potential changes to the allocation calculation and services as a result of the vacated IFR.
  2. The LEA to recalculate the equitable services portion using the calculation methodology set forth under ESSA Section 1117, which accounts for the number of low-income students that reside in participating attendance school areas.
  3. The LEA to use the balance of the remaining in the equitable services portion to bring the allocations among schools as closely as possible to the revised allocations amounts, if due to the services already provided in accordance with the previously binding IFR, the LEA doesn’t have enough remaining balance for equitable services to fully fund the revised allocations.
  4. The LEA, whose original allocations were made based on binding regulations at the time and that act promptly to reallocate funds, realizing that the reallocation cannot impact services already provided.
  5. The LEA, in consultation with private schools, serve any private school student or teacher with the allocated CARES Act funding

Minnesota has 559 school districts, charter schools, and other educational organizations. The number of nonpublic schools in the state is 371.

Norris says that the state doesn’t know yet how many districts have used ESSER funds during the IFR and need to recalculate. However, she said that districts that had already spent equitable share in excess of the recalculated amount are asked to contact MDE to determine next steps.

“All districts are expected to recalculate the equitable share using the ESSA Section 1117 method and communicate any changes with nonpublic schools within their boundaries,” she says.

Claude Bornel covers ELs and other Title I issues for TitleIAdmin, a DA sister publiation.