California Ed Department Admits Errors, Releases Millions in COVID Aid to Private Schools

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond has apologized to hundreds of leaders of California private schools serving low-income families for delays in distributing tens of millions of dollars in federal Covid aid.

Promising in a Nov. 2 webinar last week to quickly remove the bottlenecks, Thurmond said., “We regret any heartburn or difficulties that you have experienced.” He asked for “some grace” as the department fixed the problems he acknowledged it had created.

The California Department of Education admitted to mismanaging $187 million for 547 private schools that had applied and were approved for the first round of Emergency Assistance for Non-Public Schools. Congress approved that funding last December and included a second round of $181 million for California private schools from the American Rescue Plan. California hasn't received that money yet.

Acknowledging that the pandemic affected all students, and that all schools faced additional expenses and needed more resources to help students recover, Congress included nonpublic schools in the unprecedented pandemic funding for K-12 schools. Schools could buy personal protective equipment, air purifiers, Chromebooks and other supplies, pay for Covid testing, and contract for counseling, mental health, tutoring and other student services to meet the same needs as public school students.

Providing equitable education amid the pandemic continues to be a challenge for California. A federal judge on Thursday ordered the state to provide high-quality distance learning for students with disabilities who have chosen not to return to campus,

Congress put state education agencies in charge, under a tight timeframe, of getting the funding out the door. But the California Department of Education was slow to set up structures to reimburse schools for expenses and provide services.

Most affected were nonpublic schools serving low-income families, particularly urban parochial schools in the diocese in San Bernardino and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Operating on tight budgets, they lost students during Covid when families struggled financially. The first reimbursements for Covid-related purchases didn't go out until the last week in October, seven months after the state received the first round of funding.There also has been confusion over paperwork schools had to fill out to be repaid, Thurmond acknowledged.

Schools that spent money expecting reimbursement faced a cash crunch and were worried about making payroll. Schools assuming there would be counseling and mental health services for the reopening of school were told by state officials not to expect them until early February, after a monthslong needs-assessment process that would begin in November.

The breaking point for frustrated school leaders occurred late last month. Administrators from the Education Department had told schools they would be reimbursed for items purchased through Oct. 31.

Then, on Oct. 25, the department emailed them that they had been misinformed. It had received new guidance from the U.S. Department of Education on the reimbursement deadline, which in California's case, would turn out to be late September. That meant schools wouldn't be eligible to be repaid millions of dollars, even though the department until late October had encouraged the schools to buy ventilation equipment and other items, said Ron Reynolds, executive director of the California Association of Private School Organizations.

The schools reached out directly to Thurmond and asked him to become involved.

The department had urged patience, claiming that overseeing services for private schools was a new function for states. It's usually done by school districts within whose boundaries the schools are located. Unlike some other states, California has procurement laws that limited the department's ability to hire vendors to handle reimbursements and provide services quickly.

California is not the only state having trouble meeting Congress' deadlines and interpreting the law's language. However, federal law did not require the department to impose a lengthy needs-assessment process on private schools and to make them justify the services they said they needed. And, although it was allotted nearly $1 million in administrative overhead, the department chose to handle reimbursements itself without adding any staff.

Within days of being contacted, Thurmond called for a press conference with his top administrators, including Chief Deputy Superintendent Mary Nicely and Deputy Superintendent for Special Projects Malia Vella, to report they had taken steps to cut through red tape and solve the problems.

“In no way do we intend to minimize the frustration or difficulty that you've experienced. It's significant, and we will address it,” Thurmond said.

State officials negotiated with the U.S. Department of Education to extend the deadline for making purchases to Nov. 5 instead of late September. Vella said the department was working with the state controller's office to expedite reimbursements. She promised a streamlined application for services and indicated there would be flexibility in identifying vendors because many schools have existing relationships with community agencies. The state also will reach out to county offices of education to coordinate services instead of working through the nonprofit research organization WestEd, a choice schools had criticized because, unlike some county offices, it lacked experience working to provide services for private schools.

“They're doing what I had recommended in March,” Reynolds said. "”t's better late than never, but kids still remain in need of services, and schools are out significant amounts of money.”

Thurmond framed the meeting as “a day of healing and reconciliation that we have to do better, and will in coming days.”

His words resonated with parochial school leaders.

“I appreciated his statement backed by action,"”said Paul Escala, superintendent of the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese. "A crisis a week ago that should not have happened to begin with was rectified in a manner of days. There was a genuine and authentic recognition of challenges our schools have faced in an authentic manner you don't often see among elected “We're incredibly grateful for leadership that sought solutions that reflected listening to the concerns of nonpublic schools,” said Kathleen Domingo, executive director of the “All on call breathed a sigh of relief.”

Reynolds, Escala and Domingo said they were also pleased by Thurmond's announcement that he would revive the state superintendent's advisory council with representatives from nonpublic schools. Reynolds said there had been one for decades until Thurmond's predecessor, Tom Torlakson, ended it.

“I believe that we will benefit by coming together as public and private school leaders. One of my interests will be how do we work together to support the needs of low-income students in private schools,” Thurmond said. “I think that's got to be our conversation. When there are disputes about funds to support low-income students, I always say, ‘Do what’s fair, do what's right for kids.’ “

John Fensterwald is a reporter with EdSource, a partner with Bay City News.




  1. LOL.. “Providing equitable education amid the pandemic continues to be a challenge for California.”
    If CA schools could only educate and graduate students that are ‘EQUAL’ in knowledge to other peer developed nations.
    “The U.S. … LAGS behind 25 other developed nations in K-12 student achievement.”

    Don’t get in the way of the CA Bureaucracy, School Administrators and Teacher’s Unions – they Need More Taxpayer Money.
    Public School Bureaucracy and Waste…

    “…only 54% of every Public School dollar trickles down to teachers & students.”

    “Public schools spend on average 80% more per student than Private schools.”

    The compelling argument is centered on the notion that to ‘Care About Children’ is
    to ‘Spend More Money’…

    …the Emotional Based Fallacy that more money will produce better results, however, often times results in ‘Mo-Money’ fueling the School Bureaucracy as opposed to benefiting students.

    “…only 54% of every Public School dollar trickles down to teachers and students.”

    No wonder US students rank in the middle to lower half in math & science behind many other advanced industrial nations.

    Despite Poor K-12 Public School student performance scores, the U.S. continues to Spend More than almost every other nation on this endeavor – over $720 billion annually.
    Taxpayers fund nearly $15,000 per student per year in U.S. public schools… well above the global average of $10,759.

    Looking at student scores in Reading, Math, and Science…
    U.S. student achievement Falls Far Behind – 26th overall,
    17th in reading,
    23rd in science, and
    33rd in math.

    “K-12 Redesign: A Financial Overhaul” (Feb2021 ACTE)
    American Center for Transforming Education

  2. this was far from a mistake, but an act of petty behavior of a union captive education department

    just review the recent statewide election for this position, charter schools vs The Union, who’s position was to blame the achievement gap on POC parents not speaking to their two year olds enough, while NYC has demonstrated the achievement gap disappears at charter schools

    how can this author even feign anything else

    shame on you, shame on this empty suit, and shame shame shame on the racist public school teachers union

  3. And shame on Kulak/HB for hiding behind names like Parrot and Definitely Not Him to pump the same old, tired anti-union, anti-public sector nonsense. The military-intelligence system in the U.S. will absorb upwards of $1 trillion in 2021-2022, although data on exactly how much–and what it is used for–is not available to the public at large. In the past half-century that system has sucked up about 5% of the U.S. GDP, at least $20 trillion in nominal dollars (;;

    For all the wars, violence and destruction that system has wreaked on the world and its peoples, when is the last time it won a war? Technically speaking, the Korean War that began in 1950 has not even ended as some congresspeople reminded Biden and Blinken this week ( That war continues to flush real taxpayer resources right down the toilet for no good purpose. And yet libertarian backlash never decry this massive waste of resources or the decrepit and rotting system of power that keeps this con operation in place.

    The best they can do is howl at teachers unions and public services. Of course, they can’t muster a negative thought about police unions, the only ones in the public sector that have been successful in securing sufficient resources to keep their members comfortably in the middle class. It says a lot about that system and even more about those bots, doesn’t it?

  4. What a petty unreconstructed wanker. If it was a “mistake,” he should be fired for incompetency, if not, he should be prosecuted.

  5. Mr trouble / econoclast or whoever you are today

    I’m with you 1000% percent, I would happily tolerate bureaucrats such as this dude if we could just have a really good navy and made everyone learn to fire a rifle. I could give zero fs about geopolitics, all we need is north America and a few months warning on any land invasions

    and really I give zero fs about public school unions, as my kids are years ahead and collecting AP units in junior high. it’s the poor along with blacks and latinos that are getting screwed by the union. As a recent court case, discriminatory outcome that shock the conscious… but hey if you don’t care about black and latino kids dropping out or falling years behind, I can’t make you

    Id love to go by sj kulak but this site and other rag blocks me

  6. CA Education Department is just one giant terrible decision making machine. Half the kids in this state are not at grade level for reading and math – yet there are requirements for “ethnic studies” to graduate. Poor leadership at every level in this state – it is pathetic.

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