Betsy DeVos has found a way to get some of her top education privatization initiatives over the finish line via the CARES Act (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File).

Associated Press

US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is capitalizing on an opportunity to use the existing coronavirus relief legislation to advance her longstanding yet mostly stalled policy goals.

DeVos, a longtime advocate for school choice who has never attended nor worked for a public school, is using leeway in the CARES Act to funnel millions away from public schools toward private institutions and homeschooling, according to a New York Times report.

She has already allocated more than half-a-billion dollars to support private K-12 schools and colleges.

Some recipients of the funding include a Wisconsin private college alleged to be a cult, a “canine studies” university and private K-12 schools getting a bigger cut of “equitable services” money at the expense of the lowest income public school districts.

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Betsy DeVos is finally able to enact major parts of her education privatization agenda thanks to the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package Congress passed in late March.

The education secretary has faced resistance from lawmakers on diverting funds from public schools to private institutions throughout her three years in the Trump administration, but the CARES Act has been a catalyst for DeVos’ priorities over the past few weeks, according to a New York Times report.

Thirty billion dollars are allocated for education relief in the legislation, with public school districts facing severe budget shortfalls nationwide. 

Yet DeVos has already allocated than $500 million of those funds to bolster private schools, charter schools and private institutions of higher learning, according to The Times. 

“Microgrants” for alternatives to public schools account for $180 million, while $350 million of the higher education funding is set aside for private and religious colleges notwithstanding any degree of need.

One of those recipients, the Wright Graduate University for the Realization of Human Potential, has an entire website dedicated to combatting allegations that it’s a cult — www.wrightinstitutecult.com.

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The Wisconsin-based university received around $495,000, according to the Times.

Another eyebrow raising recipient is the Bergin University of Canine Studies in California —whose founder is credited with creating the “service dog” — with $472,850.

The broadest pattern from DeVos that’s raising criticism is a guidance directing public schools to spend a bigger share of their funding on students attending private schools. 

The hardest hit would be the lowest income districts — Title I schools — who would have to direct more money to students who live within the district bounds but attend private schools, with the funding going toward things like tutoring and transportation.

“School districts can — and should — ignore this guidance, which flouts what Congress intended to do with the CARES Act: support students who need it the most,” the president of the American Federation of Teachers and the executive director of AASA, the School Superintendents Association, told The Times.

Indiana has already announced it will not comply with the guidance.

Trish Stevens, the mother of a special needs daughter in Arizona, offered a blunt assessment to the Times.

“It’s like the Wild West of education right now, and we’re all just trying to figure it out.”

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