Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools in the American Rescue Plan
Published on April 26th, 2021
Following are public comments submitted to the United States Department of Education by Dennis Poust, interim executive director of the NYS Catholic Conference, regarding emergency assistance to non-public schools in the American Rescue Plan Act:
The New York State Catholic Conference (NYSCC) is very grateful to the President and Congress for the two rounds of Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools (EANS). Moreover, we applaud the approach of administering the program centrally through State Education Agencies (SEAs) as opposed to the more burdensome and often frustrating approach of having non-public schools work with numerous Local Education Agencies (LEAs) to secure their “equitable share” of services. Administering federal funding for non-public schools through SEAs eliminates much of the administrative burdens that plague public and non-public school administrators alike – and this approach should serve as a model when the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is being considered.
Although we value the approach of having separate, parallel relief programs for public and non-public schools, we remain greatly disturbed that the EANS program imposes significant restrictions on non-public schools (in terms of which schools are eligible and how funds can be used) that are not placed on public schools. In short, the respective relief programs give virtually every public school district disproportionately more funds and dramatically more allowable uses of those funds to help them meet their needs. While it is commonly understood that no school, public or non-public, escaped the adverse and ongoing effects of the pandemic, there is great disparity in the respective relief programs. It is out of this sense of unfairness that the NYSCC urges the department’s EANS-2 guidance to afford states maximum flexibility in identifying non-public schools that enroll a significant percentage of low-income students, as well as those most impacted by the COVID-19 emergency. In addition to helping to rectify the inequities in the respective relief programs, such flexibility will better enable states both to meet the short timelines imposed on implementation of the EANS program and to better meet the diverse needs of the non-public school community.
Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office and the New York State Education Department (SED) worked closely with our religious and independent school community leaders to quickly develop a fair and reasonable approach to administering EANS-1. Applications are due to SED this coming Friday, April 30. Like other states, New York’s approach gives all eligible schools a modest base amount while devoting significantly more funds to those schools with greater percentages of students from low-income families, as well as those most impacted by the pandemic. USDE’s EANS-2 guidance should enable states to continue their EANS-1 approach except for the new and explicit prohibition of reimbursement. Forcing states to revise school eligibility criteria will not only delay the much-needed relief, but it will also restrict states in serving the broad range of schools that are in desperate need of such relief.
The following addresses the three items on which the Department seeks comment:
- Identifying non-public schools that enroll a significant percentage of low-income students.
NYSCC maintains that while low-income communities have been hardest hit by the pandemic, every school has been adversely affected. The effects, while ranging in severity, are no less significant for schools with lower percentages of low-income students. Additionally, there has been a historic tendency to undercount low-income families within the non-public school community. States should continue to be encouraged to use all available data points identified on the USDE EANS I application template without a maximum poverty threshold to define students from low-income families. Accordingly, we urge USDE to refrain from establishing a single, one-size-fits-all definition of “significant percentage of low-income students,” and instead give states the discretion they have had in the implementation of EANS-1.
- Identifying non-public schools most impacted by the COVID-19 emergency.
The EANS-1 application template set forth the following parameters in guiding how states should measure and weigh the impact of the pandemic on schools:
The State may request any reasonable information from a non-public school to describe and/or quantify the impact of COVID-19 on the non-public school. Factors that an SEA might consider in determining non-public schools that are most impacted by COVID-19 include but are not limited to: (1) loss of tuition revenue; (2) decrease in enrollment; (3) lack of capacity to provide remote learning due to insufficient technological support, and (4) data documenting the extent of learning loss attributable to the educational disruptions caused by COVID-19
Again, the NYSCC maintains that all schools have been adversely impacted by the pandemic and while the nature and severity of the impact varies among schools, the impact should be measured by the respective experience of each school. Accordingly, states should be given the same latitude in measuring pandemic impact for EANS-2 as they were given under EANS-1.
- Incorporating both above factors.
NYSCC believes that schools meet the eligibility standard for EANS-2 if their applications identify both services to students from low-income families and how they have been adversely impacted by the pandemic. We maintain that states should have discretion in how they weigh both factors, and we urge the department to refrain from establishing a uniform approach. Again, the approach that states have developed to determine eligibility for and distribution of the relief under EANS-1 should be encouraged for determining eligibility and distribution of relief under EANS-2 – except, of course, for the explicit prohibition against using EANS-2 funds to reimburse schools.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the department’s prospective EANS-2 guidance. We look forward to working with USDE, Governor Cuomo’s office and SED to ensure the successful implementation of phase two of this critically important program.