Jul 7, 2020
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer Press Conference Transcript July 7
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Tuesday, July 7 press conference. Whitmer announced actions to protect students returning to school this fall. Read the full transcript of her news briefing speech here.
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Attorney General Nessel: (00:00)
… Of this public health crisis. Because of a recent rule issued by the US Department of Education interpreting the CARES Act, public schools in Michigan are at risk of losing millions and millions of dollars in federal funds to their private school neighbors. Resources that Congress intended to be allocated based on low-income student enrollment, which is much typically higher in public schools, can instead be redirected to much more affluent public schools because of Secretary DeVos’s actions.
Attorney General Nessel: (00:37)
The result of one option under DeVos’s rule would force local school districts to allocate the CARES Act funds based on all students enrolled, regardless of [inaudible 00:00:49], rather than proportioning funds is based on Title One allocations. Following this action under the DeVos’s rule will dilute and diminish by at least 16 million in Michigan alone the amount of CARES Act funds available to our public schools.
Attorney General Nessel: (01:09)
Under the second option available under DeVos’s rule, non-Title One schools would receive no CARES Act funds and Title One schools receiving funds would be limited in how they can utilize them. In addition, a particular concern is that the DeVos rule makes all private school students eligible for what’s known as equitable services funded by the CARES Act. Unfortunately, this most recent action by Secretary DeVos is really just another example in a long history of an administration that uses any and every opportunity available to tip the scale in favor of private schools at great expense of our public schools.
Attorney General Nessel: (01:58)
But all students in this country deserve an equal chance at an education, and that’s why we cannot and will not sit on the sidelines while critical funding specifically allocated based on low-income status is allowed to be reallocated by counting students who have privileges and resources already available to them.
Attorney General Nessel: (02:21)
Specifically as result of the current public health pandemic, the CARES Act designated more than $13 billion in funding for state education agencies across the country, allocated to school districts based on low income students enrolled. Michigan’s share of that funding is $390 million. The CARES Act requires districts to allocate these funds based on the number of low-income students in private schools.
Attorney General Nessel: (02:52)
The CARES Act specifically states that districts must provide private school students and teachers equitable services in the same manner as provided them under Title One. Under Title One, equitable services are available for academically at-risk stuents. However, Secretary DeVos’s rule and guidance ignores plain language of the CARES Act and instead directs local education agencies to choose between two options for allocating the CARES Act funds, neither of which actually exists in the CARES Act. Districts can allocate funds based on the total number of students enrolled in an eligible private school regardless of income level, or allocate funds only for Title One schools leaving no CARES Act funds available for non-Title One public schools.
Attorney General Nessel: (03:45)
DeVos’s rule also requires that equitable services be provided to all students enrolled in private schools, including students that are not academically at risk. Under the DeVos rule, for instance, Grand Rapids Public Schools would receive $2.66 million less in funding, the Detroit Public Schools community district would also lose 2.6 million in funding, and Flint Public Schools would lose $1.4 million.
Attorney General Nessel: (04:19)
But this isn’t just a concern for large or urban school districts. This is a concern for all of our school districts, and because of the antiicpated financial challenges that face our state in the months and years ahead, we must fight for every single dollar available for education.
Attorney General Nessel: (04:39)
That’s why today, Michigan is partnering with California to lead a coalition of states in the filing a federal lawsuit against Secretary DeVos and the US Department of Education.
Attorney General Nessel: (04:52)
In our six count complaint, we ask the court to declare DeVos’s rule and guidance unlawful, and that they be vacated, and the Department of Education would be enjoined from enforced it.
Attorney General Nessel: (05:06)
Michigan kids simply cannot afford for Betsy DeVos to play politics with their education, and that’s why I am committed to using all of the resources at my disposal to fight for and on behalf of our students, teachers, and schools.
Attorney General Nessel: (05:26)
I want to thank Governor Whitmer for her partnership on this issue and for joining us in this incredibly important fight. And with that being said, I will now turn things back over to Governor Whitmer.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (05:43)
Thank you, Attorney General. Now I would like to bring up… I’ll make a few remarks, and then [inaudible 00:05:50].
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (05:56)
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented effect on our students and educators. Shortly after we discovered the first cases of COVID-19 on March 10th, I signed an executive order closing school buildings to protect our students, [inaudible 00:06:10], and the more than 100,000 educators who have dedicated their lives to our children.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (06:14)
Since then, educators from across the state have been finding creative ways to reach students, to help them continue learning through this pandemic. Teachers have sent lessons online, by mail, or even over the phone. I even read a story about a teacher who would write math problems in chalk on her students’ driveways as she was out jogging. Michigan parents have also stepped up to help, working on lessons with their kids during the day while simultaneously working from home.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (06:45)
While there’s no doubt that our students and educators were dealt a tough hand this year, we’ve all got to work together to support them both during this pandemic and once it’s over.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (06:56)
Last week, I negotiated the supplemental budget with Republican leaders and Democratic leaders in the legislature, and that budget will provide support for our students and educators during this crisis. The budget I signed asked $512 billion in CARES Act funding to reimburse districts for COVID-19 expenses that were incurred in the spring, and to prepare for returning to school safely this fall. We’ll also include $500 in hazard pay for Michigan teachers to put more money in their pockets, so $500 per teacher. This crisis has shined a light on the inequities in our public school system.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (07:41)
Just last week, I announced the My Safe Schools Roadmap to ensure districts across the state implement strict safety measures to protect everyone who sets foot in a Michigan school, if we are in a place to return this fall.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (07:57)
The budget I signed also allocates $256 million to support each district’s ability to implement their local plans. In the past year, we have made great strides when it comes to improving our public education system. Last year, we negotiated a budget that provided more funding for at-risk students and students with special needs. For the first time ever, we’ve been moving toward a school funding formula that is based on equity and based on science. This year, my administration negotiated a landmark literacy case where a Michigan court ruled that every child, no matter their community, has a birthright to a path to literacy. These are the types of steps that we’ve got to take on behalf of our kids, and that we must continue to work toward.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (08:47)
Improving our education system, whether it’s in-person or remote, is one of the most important actions that we can take in Michigan in helping our students and educators and every community recover from the impact of COVID-19 and the impact that it’s had on our schools. The CARES Act dollars from the federal government are crucial in this effort.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (09:09)
CARES Act dollars are designed to provide support to schools in low-income areas, but Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration have a different plan. Under their new rule, private schools in affluent districts may receive services that Congress intended for disadvantaged students. This isn’t how it should work. This is a virus that has had a disproportionate impact on low-income communities and communities of color. Schools in these areas deserve a government that will support them throughout this crisis. The DeVos rule strips dollars away from schools in need of that critical funding. She doesn’t share our priorities for protecting and improving public education, and that’s why this action today is necessary and we’re grateful for the Attorney General’s leadership. I’m proud to support our Attorney General and the five other Attorneys General who have joined this lawsuit.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (10:04)
Our teachers and students have made tremendous sacrifices over the last four months. Educators have been working around the clock to provide our kids with a great education in the midst of a global pandemic. Students have missed out on graduations, and proms, and seeing their friends at school every day. They’ve done their part to protect one another, and we’ve done our part to protect each other and Michiganders throughout the state from the spread of COVID-19. Now it’s time for the federal government to do their part.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (10:37)
The DeVos plan will hurt families in low-income communities. It’ll cast aside those who need help the most. That’s why the Attorney General’s work is so important, and that’s why the state of Michigan has joined the lawsuit. I want to thank the Attorney General for her leadership on this issue.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (10:55)
I want to end by once again calling on the federal government to provide more flexibility and support for states across America that are struggling with the unprecedented budget constraints forced on us by the COVID-19 pandemic. If we’re going to continue to provide crucial services for Michiganders and help our students and educators recover, we need the federal government to step up and to do their part.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (11:21)
This problem is not unique here in Michigan. States across the country, no matter which party their Governor or Attorney General is in, the states universally are struggling to fund essential services. That’s where Washington needs to step up. We all need that kind of help, and that’s how we help Michiganders ultimately recover. That’s how we build a stronger Michigan for everyone.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (11:48)
With that, I would like to ask our State Superintendent, Dr. Michael Rice, to come to the podium.
State Superintendent Rice: (11:53)
Thank you, Governor Whitmer. In her April 30th guidance, the US Secretary of Education used a formula that would have benefited non-public schools at the expense of public schools. After the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Professional Organization of State Superintendents expressed concern about this in a May 5th letter, that the formula violated the CARES Act. Others, including members of Congress, noted the discrepancy between the Secretary’s actions and the CARES Act’s plain language. The US Secretary amended her guidance in a rule issued July 1st, just last week. The US Department of Education required local education agencies to choose between two methods for allocating CARES Act funds, neither of which is in fact in the CARES Act, as Attorney General Nessel pointed out.
State Superintendent Rice: (13:08)
Departments of Education, including the Michigan Department of Education, are required by law to distribute CARES Act’s funds to local school districts. This allocation is supposed to be according to the Title One part A allocation, with 12 allowable purposes under the CARES Act, mostly related to COVID-19, including the purchase of personal protective equipment, the provision of professional development, the purchase of technology for remote instruction.
State Superintendent Rice: (13:42)
Under the law, once local public school districts have received their allocations from the State Department of Education, they’re required to allocate funds to the non-public schools in their districts based on the non-public schools’ share of low-income students enrolled in the overall local jurisdiction. Title One funds are not intended to be allocated based on all students enrolled, since the CARES Act funding allocation is supposed to mirror Title One allocations. Instead, however, the US Department of Education’s rule extensively published to clarify requirements for allocating CARES funding to non-public schools does not, in fact, allow local school districts to follow the CARES Act requirements, but instead requires districts to choose one of two allocation options, neither of which is a part of the CARES Act.
State Superintendent Rice: (14:42)
Each of these choices would adversely affect public schools compared to the Title One, Part A formula by which the funds should be distributed by law. Under the Title One, Part A formula required by the CARES Act, non-public schools are entitled to $5.1 million under the formula that the secretary initially employed in her guidance and then subsequently used as one of two choices. In her rule, non-public schools would receive $21.6 million. As Attorney General Nessel pointed out, the difference between the two formulas is more than $16 million, almost $16.5 million. This is enough to buy 63,694 Chromebooks for students at $259 per Chromebook, or to buy personal protective equipment for 33,944 students at $486 per student annually, the cost imputed from an American Association of Superintendents and Administrators analysis.
State Superintendent Rice: (15:54)
This is an issue, in fairness, with many details. But at base, it’s a simple issue. You, Secretary of Education, manufactured guidance and then a rule that favored non-public schools at the expense of public schools in a way neither intended nor enacted by Congress. Any siphoning off of public school funds to non-public schools is unacceptable, and it’s particularly unacceptable in the midst of a pandemic and a deterioration of state revenues across the country as a function of that pandemic.
State Superintendent Rice: (16:34)
I’d like to thank Attorney General Nessel for representing us well and taking on this fight in support of public schools and public school children with California and the other states involved. To Governor Whitmer, thank you for keeping us safe in the pandemic and for continuing to prioritize public education and public school children in your work. Thank you.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (17:05)
Thank you, Dr. Rice. Were you going to speak, Dana?
Attorney General Nessel: (17:12)
I don’t have to. Do you want to answer some questions?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (17:13)
I’m happy to open it up for questions. I would anticipate most of them on the lawsuit will be directed toward the Attorney General, so I was going to just ask her to come on up and we’ll get started that way.
Attorney General Nessel: (17:26)
Firstly, I want to acknowledge the phenomenal work by my department and specifically by Toni Harris, who is the First Assistant for our Health Education and Family Services division, and everybody at her division. Thank you so much for your hard work on this.
Attorney General Nessel: (17:45)
This is a very, very complicated set of facts, for those of you who just listened to that. If you’re confused, that’s because this is very convoluted. But ultimately, it’s very simple in terms of what it boils down to, and that is Betsy DeVos and her long-time MO, which is to siphon away funds from public schools to private schools at the expense of public school districts. It boils down to that at its core, and quite honestly at a time when we can at least afford this and in the midst of a global pandemic, and we find that to be outrageous. That’s why we filed this lawsuit.
Attorney General Nessel: (18:35)
But for more specific details, I think that Dr. Rice and AG Harris probably best be suited, but we’ll take any questions. If I can answer them, I’ll try.
Reporter 1: (18:51)
Attorney General, how quickly will you be asking the courts to move on this, and do you think that it could be in place in time for the school year to begin?
Attorney General Nessel: (18:55)
I think we’ll be asking for a preliminary injunction on this within the next couple of weeks.
Reporter 2: (19:02)
It sounded like the direction from the Department of Education contradicted what the CARES Act says from Congress. Why does that take precedent over what the CARES Act says? Couldn’t schools just allocate it according to the CARES Act and skip over the Department of Education themselves?
Attorney General Nessel: (19:20)
The rule was promulgated by the Department of Education, and so these districts have to follow that rule as it has been interpreted by Secretary DeVos. Of course, we believe that it’s been interpreted incorrectly by her and that it’s a flagrant violation of the plain language of the Act, and so we expect that we’ll win. But it’s another effort by the Secretary to do whatever she possibly can to circumvent the law at the expense of public schools. I don’t know if… Dr. Rice, do you have anything in addition to that?
State Superintendent Rice: (19:55)
Just that it puts local school districts and local schools-
Attorney General Nessel: (20:03)
State Superintendent Rice: (20:05)
Pardon me. It puts local school districts and local school district leadership in a very uncomfortable position, having to choose between the plain Act language on the one hand and the guidance from the US secretary on the other. Ideally, the guidance from a US Secretary of Education would be consistent with the Act. It wouldn’t be conflictual associated therewith.
State Superintendent Rice: (20:31)
At this point, LEA’s local school districts have to choose between the guidance from the Secretary on the one hand and the plain language of the Act on the other. It also puts in question the difference between the two formulas, and what do you do with the difference in amounts within your local jurisdiction between those two formulas?
Reporter 2: (20:59)
Am I correct in understanding that you said there was a $16 million difference under one of the options?
State Superintendent Rice: (21:05)
Reporter 2: (21:05)
What is the difference with the other option?
State Superintendent Rice: (21:09)
The difference between the two options is just shy of $16.5 million.
Attorney General Nessel: (21:13)
If there are no more questions, then that’s amazing.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (21:13)
Are there any other questions?
Reporter 1: (21:13)
All right. Thank you, Governor.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (21:13)
All right. Have a good one, everybody.