Letter to U.S. Department of Education: Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools in the American Rescue Plan Act

April 26, 2021
Office of State and Grantee Relations
Office of Elementary and Secondary Education
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20202-6450

RE: Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools in the American Rescue Plan Act

On behalf of the 450 K-12 nonpublic schools in Minnesota, serving more than 66,000 students, we would like to express gratitude to the Senate Democratic leadership for including additional funding for the Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools (EANS) in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARP) and for President Biden signing the bill. The EANS program was created in December in the prior COVID relief package, approved by congress and signed by President Trump. We understand the intended goal of EANS II is to continue the vital impact of EANS I and allow the states to build on the recovery they have already begun.

Governor Walz and the State of Minnesota applied for EANS I and implementation has begun with nonpublic schools currently submitting applications for funding through the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE). Throughout the planning and implementation phase of EANS I, the SEA and several nonpublic school representatives met regularly to work in unison to develop a strong and equitable plan to meet the needs of all learners in nonpublic schools.

This plan put a greater emphasis and allocation on students and communities negatively impacted by the pandemic. Since the pandemic has reached every school community, the formula developed set a “base rate” per student, with a significant increased multiplier on students who qualify for Free and Reduced-Price Lunch (FRP/L). This ensures school communities in underserved and underrepresented communities received an elevated allocation to meet their enhanced needs. We believe it would be most efficient and effective to seamlessly build on the already established EANS I process with the additional EANS II funding and carry on with policies and procedures currently in place.

The nonpublic school community supports language that prioritizes low-income students and schools most impacted by COVID. That requirement is already in place in EANS I and should remain the same for the EANS II process and application. Funding to the states from USDE is exclusively allocated based on the count of low-income students. Additional conflicting policy and procedures for two nearly identical programs will create confusion and mixed messages. The purpose of the statute is to provide needed assistance to nonpublic schools to combat the wide-ranging impact of the pandemic. All efforts should build upon the established priorities and
processes that are now in place.

The following statements pertain to the three items on which the Department is seeking
comment:

1. Identifying nonpublic schools that enroll a significant percentage of low-income students.

States should continue to use all eligible data points already provided on the USDE EANS I application template without a maximum poverty threshold to define low-income
students. Regarding the definition of “significant,” states should be given discretion to
decide these factors and the federal government should not establish an absolute, “one
size must fit all” criterion. An array of options should be suggested to states, but not
mandated or limited. There is not one perfect way of determining low-income student
enrollment in nonpublic schools and most data collection is voluntary and subjective.
Because this data collection is not a centralized process, nor is it a government
mandated process, the data are not consistent from school to school and will lead to
undercounting many low-income students. A single data point must not be used to
deem a nonpublic school ineligible to participate in a massive federal emergency relief
program.

2. Identifying nonpublic schools most impacted by the COVID-19 emergency.

All nonpublic schools have been impacted by the pandemic in one way or another and
in different degrees – often severe. The impacts on nonpublic schools have varied
among and within the states, based on many factors, including the severity of the
pandemic in their region, a school’s resources, and the demographics and resources of
the community the school serves. Accordingly, impact should be measured by the whole
of a school’s experience, not by a limited set of metrics. Minnesota’s nonpublic schools
have provided a safe, in-person learning experiences during this pandemic. These have
come with significant expense to ensure proper health and safety protocols. States
should be given discretion to decide how to weigh these impacts, and the federal
government should not establish centralized criteria. An array of options should be
suggested to states, but not mandated or limited.

3. Incorporating both above factors.

If schools demonstrate in their applications both their services to low-income students
and the significance of the impact of COVID on their operations, they have met the ARP
EANS requirements. States should be given broad discretion to determine services to
low-income students and the impact of COVID upon schools and how to weigh ARP
funds accordingly. The federal government should not establish a uniform method or
formula. An array of options should be suggested to states, but not mandated or
limited. It should be recommended that any school that demonstrates both above
factors through the state designed process is eligible under for EANS funds under the
ARP. States may then direct the funding to the private school student populations in
need of help.

ARP guidance should foster state discretion on implementation and the maximum participation by nonpublic schools. The pandemic impacted ALL schools, and the relief services should be made available to as many schools as possible.

Thank you for your consideration to this important matter.

Sincerely,

Tim Benz
Minnesota Independent School Forum Minnesota Catholic Conference

Jason Adkins, Esq.
President Executive Director

 

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