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Montana private schools to receive larger, unknown amount of federal aid money

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“Town Crier” newsletter – Briefs from the Region (1) – 5/18/20

Some $41.2 million dollars in federal stimulus monies have been earmarked for Montana’s schools since early April, a number that has remained unchanged since the news broke more than 1.5 months ago. However, the Associated Press has unveiled some eyebrow-raising developments, namely that private schools—those with paid tuition and sometimes endowments—are set to receive a larger amount than previously thought, thanks to new guidance from the U.S. Department of Education. At least one million dollars will be transferred over to the private school bin, money originally directed toward public school aid. According to the piece, “The shift is rooted in an interpretation of a rule affecting private schools that provide ‘equitable services’ and participate in a federal program that helps fund those services,” and that stimulus money was divvied via a formula that awards money based on the proportion of student from low-income families. “Initially, the equitable services provision for private schools focused on the same low-income student group, but guidance from Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos expanded that to include all private school enrollment—a disproportionately larger metric than the low-income measure for public schools.” There has been blowback, including cries the move favors private schools and a national teachers union and national superintendents association have even asked that local districts ignore the guidance outright. There is even the notion the move represents “privatization with public funds,” says Kirk Miller, who leads School Administrators of Montana and estimates around $1.3 million could sift through public school fingers and into private school hands.

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