PDE Issues CARES Act Funds Guidance in Light of USDE Rule Change (July 7, 2020)

Pennsylvania has received $523.8 million in emergency, one-time federal CARES funds to help schools respond to COVID-19 impacts. PDE recommended a calculation for distribution of funds to private schools that differs from the non-binding guidance issued by USDE in April. In issuing its own guidance, PDE noted that the federal guidance advised that funds must be reserved to provide equitable services to all private schools, regardless of income. PDE suggested this is inconsistent with the CARES Act goal of ensuring that the emergency funds reach the most vulnerable students.
With the new interim final rule now effective, PDE is looking at the next steps necessary.  PDE’s current guidance expressly challenges and disagrees with the USDE interpretation of how the CARES Act directs equitable services proportions to be calculated. However, PDE has not yet updated that guidance in response to the USDE interim final rule. School districts should watch for updated PDE guidance in the near future, which it is anticipated will explain the legal basis for any continuing disagreement with the interpretations reflected in the USDOE interim final rule. Although in the view of PSBA the interpretation reflected in PDE’s current guidance more closely tracks the text of the CARES Act, at this point it is unknown whether such disagreements will lead to legal challenges in court or how such challenges are likely to be resolved. It is advised that districts put off committing to a particular approach to calculating equitable services at least until updated PDE guidance is available.

Sincere thanks to PSBA for the information provided herein.