Washington has become the latest state to sue the U.S. Department of Education for the way it is distributing emergency relief funds from the CARES Act to schools.
On Thursday, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a motion in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington requesting that the court issue a preliminary injunction in the case.
Ferguson argued that the Education Department has created new rules for disbursing the funds that would require public school districts to share a larger portion of the money with private schools that operate within their borders.
Private schools generally enroll a much lower percentage of low-income students, and often also have endowment funds, so their need is not as great, Ferguson argued.
The Education Department created two new formulas for distributing CARES money that break from a traditional formula commonly used by the Education Department to disburse funds. For example, under the traditional formula, Seattle private schools would have received about 3.4% of the federal money allocated to Seattle; Seattle public schools would have received the remainder.
But under one of the two new formulas the Education Department says districts must use, private schools in Seattle would receive about 19% of the CARES Act money. Using the second formula, Seattle public schools would only be able to use the money at Title I schools. Title I is a federal program for high-poverty schools, but not all high-poverty schools participate; for example, 10 Seattle high-poverty schools that qualify are not part of the program.
Ferguson argued that the rule forces school districts to make a difficult choice: either limit which schools can use the funds, or base the calculations on total student population and give a significant amount to private schools regardless of need.
The Education Department is also being sued over the rule by the national NAACP, which was joined in its suit by the Denver County Public School District, Pasadena Unified School District and Stamford Public Schools. And attorneys general in the District of Columbia and five states — Michigan, California, Maine, New Mexico and Wisconsin — have also filed suit against the Education Department. The lawsuits all make similar claims about the way the money is being disbursed.
Ferguson is up for reelection this fall, and three Republicans who are running for the seat have charged that the attorney general has unnecessarily politicized the office by suing the Trump administration 69 times.