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CHICAGO (March 23, 2021) — The Liberty Justice Center is intent on ensuring that billions of federal COVID-19 emergency assistance dollars earmarked for non-public schools actually wind up in the service of those schools and their students.
At stake are $5.5 billion in Covid-related emergency grants earmarked for non-public schools. The money for safety equipment and ventilation improvements — often required or strongly recommended by state health departments but with little to no funding available for non-public schools — may be used to help these schools safely reopen. In some instances, the grants are crucial to maintaining services at private and parochial schools that have been providing the only in-person option in their communities since the outset of the pandemic.
“We are concerned that certain governors — particularly those whose campaigns benefit greatly from public-sector teachers unions — may not be diligent about alerting their private and parochial school leaders to the availability of these funds,” said Brian Kelsey, senior attorney at the Liberty Justice Center, a national, nonprofit public-interest law firm.
“These dollars could prove to be a lifeline for students who, for one reason or another, are not a fit for their traditional public school,” Kelsey continued. “We do not want to see the money go unused due to lack of awareness, or see these funds be repurposed by state officials who skirt their legal obligation to notify private schools that they can apply.”
In a letter distributed to top school officials nationwide March 18, Kelsey noted several requirements of the act establishing the Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools Grant Program, or Public Law 116-260. Among them is an imminent deadline for state school leaders to notify all parochial and private schools in their jurisdiction of the availability of the funds.
“Sec. 312(d)(3)(A)(i) of the Act mandates that you notify the private and parochial schools in your jurisdiction of the availability of funding within thirty (30) days of the receipt of funds,” Kelsey wrote. “In practice, this provision requires you to issue such a notice on or before March 22, 2021. There are no exceptions to this requirement.”
The Public Act also requires prompt applications processing — with approval or denial issued within 30 days of an application’s receipt — and expedited funds distribution.
“We are prepared to make all necessary efforts, up to and including litigation, to see that the Congressional intent is fulfilled, and those students in need of this funding receive their appropriate portion,” Kelsey wrote in the letter distributed on March 18. “We would be happy to provide any advice or guidance in furtherance of this end.”
A copy of the letter is available here.