More than 800 poor rural schools could lose funding due to rule change by Education Department: Report

A U.S. Department of Education bookkeeping change could reportedly result in funding being cut to more than 800 rural schools.

The schools, many of which are already struggling with low funding, could lose thousands more due to a change in enforcement of a rule on how to report students living in poverty, according to a Friday report from The New York Times.

The Education Department plan to cut off the schools because they have not been reporting the statistics based on census data as technically required by law, although the government had been allowing the schools to report the statistics based on number of students on free and reduced school lunch programs, which some consider to be a more reliable measure, especially in rural areas.

Education Department officials were said to be surprised to learn that the letter of the law had not been followed after discovering during an audit that schools were allowed to report the metric using the school lunch method for around 17 years. Rather than allow the schools to continue receiving the funding, the department plans to cut them off.

“When you discover you’re not following the law Congress wrote, you don’t double down; you fix it,” Education Department spokesperson Liz Hill told the paper. “If that’s what Congress wants, Congress should pass it, and the Education Department will happily implement it. We will also continue to look for ways to help ensure students are not unnecessarily harmed.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos during a taping of Fox Business Network’s “Mornings With Maria” in New York City on February 20, 2020.John Lamparski/Getty

Hill reportedly said that the department had drafted a possible fix allowing the school lunch metric, but will not allow the funding to continue unless Congress changes the law, despite the potentially devastating impact the decision could have on rural schools.

The department announced that they had discovered the schools were “erroneously” receiving the funding to state education leaders less than a month earlier. The decision to take funding from poverty-stricken schools around the country has been met with backlash, especially from lawmakers whose constituents could be directly impacted by the move.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) wrote a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos earlier in the month asking her to block the poverty reporting rules change and preserve low income education programs.

“I urge you to use any and all possible interim measures and authorities to prevent such severe cuts for rural, low-income students and the RLIS [Rural Low-Income Schools] program this year,” Collins wrote. “If this decision is not reversed, the department risks denying thousands of students living in rural Maine the chance to reach their full potentials.”

Newsweek reached out to the Education Department for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.

*Story by NewsWeek