Why Participate in Federal Education Programs?

Written by Sr. Dale McDonald, Vice President of Public Policy, NCEA, [email protected]

There are several federally funded education programs that Catholic school principals and superintendents can access for their students and teachers to receive supplemental services designed to enhance learning opportunities.  Among these there are two programs that most Catholic and other private schools participate in: the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Participation of private school children and their educational personnel is mandated in Sec. 1011 of ESEA and Sec. 612(10)(A) of IDEA.

Why participate? While the programs themselves outline the actual benefits of doing so, it is important to remember that participation of private schools in these programs is a benefit provided to students and their teachers by Congress with the taxpayer dollars of the students’ parents and that of the educational personnel at the school. It is not a monetary grant to the school itself but rather an opportunity for the students and teachers to claim, one that the school administration should not refuse. There are safeguards built into the law regarding the participating school’s autonomy and right to exercise its independence from the federal government, so fear of “intrusion” should not be a reason for refusal – nor should the inconvenience of having to consult with the public school officials who control the funding.  The needs of the students and teachers should be driving the program, not the convenience of the administrators.

Some rumors about possible government interference have raised concerns about participation. To alleviate such concerns for any school, know that the Department of Education Organization Act expressly prohibits the Department from exercising “any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system.” Whether it is private or public education, the federal government does not have oversight – that is the responsibility of the state and local governments.  Concerns about new federal interpretations of Title IX regulations, particularly those regarding sexual orientation/gender identity, do not apply to faith-based schools if they are not recipients of federal financial assistance (FFA). The guidance document pertaining to ESEA programs specifies that receipt of services is not receipt of FFA.

The structure of ESEA and IDEA regarding participation of private schools ensures that they are not recipients of federal funding.  Since ESEA was created in 1965, students, teachers and other private and religious school educational personnel have the right to participate in some of the programs under the ESEA.  Participation does not provide direct aid to the schools. Program funds are distributed to the state and/or local educational agencies (LEA – public school districts) that provide eligible programs and services to private and religious school students and teachers. The district is the fiduciary agent that manages the funding and provides equitable services as determined through consultation between the private school officials and district personnel responsible for those programs and services.

To participate more effectively, private school officials need to be aware of the law and regulations and the guidance documents that the US Department of Education publishes to assist with implementation.  All the documents that our school administrators need are on the NCEA Public Policy Webpage – and I encourage all to download them and take them to the consultation meetings – and bring a copy for the public official who may not have seen them!

What actual benefits might these programs provide to Catholic school students and educational personnel?  ESEA, known now as Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides for private school inclusion in these programs:

Title I, Part A: Improving Academic Achievement of Disadvantaged Students provides supplemental educational services for eligible students to ensure they all have a significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach proficiency on assessments. Services are also available to teachers of Title I students and their parents to assist with student learning.

Title I, Part C: Education of Migratory Children provides services to ensure that all migrant students reach challenging academic standards and graduate with a high school diploma (or complete a GED) that prepares them for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment.

Title II, Part A: Preparing, Training, and Recruiting Teachers and School Leaders enables educators to participate in professional development activities that are designed to improve the knowledge of teachers and principals in order to meet the learning needs of school students.

Title III, Part A: Language Instruction for English Learners and Immigrant Students: provides funds for teaching English to English learners (ELs) and increasing the English proficiency of ELs by providing high-quality language instruction and high-quality professional development for teachers of ELs students.

Title IV, Part A: Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants offers a multitude of ways to raise academic achievement by providing all students with access to a well-rounded education, opportunities for improving school health/safety conditions to support student learning, and for improving the use of technology and digital literacy of all students.

Title IV, Part B: 21st Century Community Learning Centers supports the creation of community learning centers that provide academic enrichment opportunities during non-school hours for children, particularly students who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools.

Title IV, Part F, subpart 3 – National Activities for School Safety Project School Emergency Response to Violence (Project Serv) provides for equitable education-related services to help them recovery from a violent or traumatic crisis in which the learning environment has been disrupted with services that include mental and social/emotional and safety supports – but not construction or medical services.

Individual With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Part B provides for the inclusion of students who are parentally placed by their parents in private schools in programs special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living. This is a limited opportunity conditioned upon the available amount of federal funds supporting the program.

The specific details pertaining to acquiring access to these programs for students and educational personnel can be complex but are navigable!  Throughout this school year, NCEA will be presenting a series of webinars that examine the specifics of each program to assist school administrators in the process of consulting with their local districts to obtain equitable services for their school communities.  The first of these, Exploring New Federal Guidance Documents to Assure More Equitable Services in Federal Programs, occurred on October 10.  Watch registration announcements on the NCEA website and the weekly updates. This is an opportunity to join with other Catholic school leaders in learning more and sharing experiences about effective ways to make participation more equitable!