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2024 Montana Primary elections

Private School Students Could See Boost From CARES Act

Private school students could receive more educational services from public school districts as $41 million dollars in aid comes into Montana under the federal CARES Act. A technical change in how money flows into the state means public schools could increase the percentage of relief dollars going to non-public school students. 

CARES Act relief dollars destined for public schools will be distributed through the same system used to send federal money to low-income districts participating in a program known as Title 1.

Title 1 funding is based on the number of low-income students within district boundaries, no matter if students attend public, private or homeschool. Under the program, some of that money must be used to provide educational services, such as tutoring support or providing additional class offerings, to low-income students in non-public schools.

The U.S. Department of Education put out guidance last week explaining a different calculation for CARES ACT dollars is being used to determine how much districts will be required to spend on those services.

Montana Office of Public Instruction Spokesperson Dylan Klapmeier explains that calculation will be based on total student enrollment in non-public schools rather than the number of low-income students.

“So that would result in a larger percentage of equitable services that the public school district has to provide to non-public students in their district,” Klapmeier said.

How much more will depend not just on non-public student numbers, but how many non-public schools opt in to receive services. OPI has told districts to crunch those new spending totals over the next two weeks. Public education advocates at the state and federal level are questioning Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ interpretation of the CARES Act.

“I think the question is whether the Secretary’s interpretation and the guidance that was given to states is actually the intention of Congress to distribute the funds in that way,” School Administrators of Montana Executive Director Kirk Miller, said.

Miller says some states are holding out on distributing CARES Act funding until the question is settled, but OPI plans to move ahead under the current guidance from federal education officials.

Aaron graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Journalism in 2015 after interning at Minnesota Public Radio. He landed his first reporting gig in Wrangell, Alaska where he enjoyed the remote Alaskan lifestyle and eventually moved back to the road system as the KBBI News Director in Homer, Alaska. He joined the MTPR team in 2019. Aaron now reports on all things in northwest Montana and statewide health care.
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