DeVos’ ed department warns governors about sending stimulus money to teachers unions

Governors have a lot of leeway to decide how they’ll spend the nearly $3 billion in emergency education aid that was set aside for them in the latest coronavirus stimulus package.

They can give the money to school districts, colleges, or any “education related entity” that’s providing emergency educational services, child care, social and emotional support, or is working to protect education jobs, the law says.

But when the U.S. Department of Education notified governors about the funds earlier this week, its guidance included a notable exception: Giving funds to teachers unions “would be likely inconsistent” with the law, it said. 

If any teachers union did receive money, states would have “to separately identify and account for” how it was spent, it says. (The notice also said funds shouldn’t go directly to executives or administrators of state education agencies, colleges, or education groups, unless it’s for a permitted reason, and that spending would also have to be tracked.)

It’s one of the few requirements in the notice attributed directly to the Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, who has clashed with teachers unions in the past.

The guidance drew criticism from Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers, the country’s second-largest teachers union.

“As teacher unions are working 24/7 to help our members help students during this pandemic, leave it to Secretary DeVos to take a gratuitous swipe at us,” Weingarten said in a statement. “Educators and unions like the AFT and our affiliates are partnering with their districts to put these resources to good use, and we want to do more, but adding an onerous reporting requirement for unions is a cheap shot.”

It’s unclear whether unions would be a likely recipient of this money. They do often play a role in training teachers, and in recent weeks, teachers unions have done things like distribute information to families about where they can access food and other services, share lesson plans for teaching remotely, and connect teachers with one another to trade tips. 

“We owe it to these kids, and to the American taxpayer, to make sure this money is put to good use,” Angela Morabito, a spokesperson for the education department, said in a statement. “It’s unfortunate that AFT views basic transparency as an unfair burden.”

Morabito said the department believes giving money to unions would be inconsistent with the law because unions don’t carry out “emergency educational services to students,” as the law specifies. “Individual teachers do,” she wrote.