September 4, 2020

NAACP Wins Summary Judgment in Case to Protect CARES Act Funds

Munger, Tolles & Olson prevailed in a case representing the NAACP, school districts and students as plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging a Department of Education rule that would have siphoned off hundreds of millions of CARES Act funds away from public schools.

In March of 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). As part of its comprehensive relief effort, the CARES Act appropriated billions of dollars in funding for elementary and secondary schools across the nation. The Act did so through several sub-funds including the Governors’ Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER) and the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER).

On July 1, 2020, the Department of Education interpreted those funding provisions in an Interim Final Rule (“Rule”). The Rule stated that GEER and ESSER funds should be used to “serve all non-public school students and teachers without regard to family income, residency, or eligibility based on low achievement.” In short, the Department interprets the CARES Act to forbid any differentiation between public and private schools—a position which could be detrimental to low-income school districts suffering the most during these difficult times. In response, Munger Tolles filed a lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on July 22, 2020 in an effort to invalidate the Rule.

Munger Tolles filed an expedited motion for summary judgment and on Sept. 4, 2020, Judge Dabney Friedrich granted the firm’s motion and issued a total and expedited victory. In analyzing the arguments, the Court found the Department did not have authority to issue the Rule and the Rule the Department issued was contrary to the CARES Act. For these reasons, the Court granted the motion for summary judgment, invalidating the Rule nationwide and permanently, ultimately allowing school districts have clarity on their budgets in this very difficult time.

Read the entire order granting summary judgment.

The Munger, Tolles & Olson team included Jonathan Kravis, Tammy Godley, Adele El-Khouri, David Thoreson and Jessica Baril. To achieve this win, the firm joined forces with the Education Law Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center on Public Funds Public Schools – a national campaign to ensure that public funds for education are used to maintain, support and strengthen public schools.