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Permanent Injunction Granted in Litigation Led by AG Nessel, Others Over CARES Act Funding for Public Schools

LANSING – The lawsuit co-led by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra against U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her attempt to divert millions of dollars in COVID-19 relief funding from public schools is officially over.

Judge James Donato – of the U.S. District Court Northern District of California – on Nov. 9 approved a permanent injunction, formally closing the case on DeVos’ efforts to rewrite a section of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that would have diverted more than $16 million in funding away from public schools in Michigan. Following his order to grant the permanent injunction, Judge Donato on Wednesday entered a judgment in favor of all plaintiffs.

“This pandemic has greatly impacted students across the country. The CARES Act is imperative as it provides critical funding for our public schools and the resources teachers need to continue safely teaching our youth,” Nessel said. “This permanent injunction sends a clear message that the publicly funded CARES Act dollars should be used as Congress intended – to educate our public students, and not to serve the political agendas of a select few.”

Donato in August issued a preliminary injunction in the lawsuit that joined two similar orders by courts in the District of Columbia and Washington State, which also challenged DeVos’ effort. In response, Secretary DeVos penned a letter in late September in which she acknowledged defeat, stating her Department would not appeal the court’s rulings.

Under the order, the district court will retain jurisdiction to enforce the injunction, and the Department of Education waives any right to request reconsideration or to appeal the permanent injunction.

The injunction prohibits the U.S. Department of Education from: 

  • Requiring states and local education agencies (LEAs) to calculate the share of CARES Act funds for private schools in a manner inconsistent with Title I’s calculation for equitable services to private schools; 
  • Requiring that CARES Act funds supplement, rather than supplant, other fund sources; 
  • Restricting the distribution of CARES Act funds to only those public schools that participate in or are eligible for Title I; and 
  • Taking any adverse action against districts or schools that relied on the original guidance or interim final rule before the preliminary injunction entered.

Nessel and Becerra led a coalition of states that filed suit on July 7 against DeVos and her Department for issuing the rule that would have unfairly limited the ability of public schools to use federal funds provided under the CARES Act.

In their litigation, Nessel and Becerra were joined by the attorneys general of Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia, as well as the City School District for the City of New York, Chicago Board of Education, Cleveland Municipal School District Board of Education and the San Francisco Unified School District.

Click here to view a copy of Donato’s permanent injunction.