ESSA: A Starter Kit for Private School Educators
What is ESSA consultation?
Although private schools are free to decline, the law requires public school districts to reach out to officials of every nonprofit private school located within their boundaries to explain the programs and services made available through ESSA, and to invite the participation of private school students and educators. Consultation is the process by which district (or state-level) staff and private school officials discuss and define how private school students and educators will participate in ESSA programs.
If private school officials decide that their students and educators will participate in ESSA programs, consultation becomes an ongoing process that continues throughout the implementation and assessment of the services provided.
It is hard to overestimate the importance of consultation. Without it, private school leaders may not gain awareness of the range of federally funded programs and services that are available to their students and teachers, nor will they know how much money is available for each program. When consultation is provided in a timely and meaningful manner, available resources can be used in a planned manner and to maximum benefit.
What should consultation include?
One important new feature of ESSA is that the statute says that public and private school officials, “…shall both have the goal of reaching agreement on how to provide equitable and effective programs for eligible private school children…” (ESSA §1117(b)(1) and §8501(c)(1)). When discussions focus on Title I services, the law requires the results of whatever agreement is reached to be transmitted to the ombudsman to be designated by the California Department of Education. This is another new and significant provision of ESSA that will be of assistance if, at a later date, the parties to a particular consultation should hold differing views about what was agreed to.
ESSA says that consultation should lead to the goal of reaching mutual agreement on issues such as:
- how student’s needs will be identified;
- what services will be offered;
- how, where, and by whom the services will be provided;
- how the services will be assessed, and how the results of the assessment will be used to improve services;
- the size and scope of the equitable services to be provided, the amount of funds available for services, and how that amount was determined;
- how and when a public school district (or other entity) will make decisions about the delivery of services, including a thorough consideration and analysis of the views of private school officials on the provision of services through potential third-party providers; and,
- whether to provide services by pooling funds so as to serve children from various school groupings. (ESSA §1117(b) and §8501(c))
A few things to consider…
The statute tells us that consultation should lead to agreement about how, where, and by whom the federally funded services will be provided, but – with the exception of Title I – it doesn’t say when. Don’t be discouraged. Just because the statutory language fails to mention “when” doesn’t, and shouldn’t prevent private school officials from making their views known, and attempting to reach agreement about timing. Here, advance planning is critical, and consultation should be initiated well in advance of a coming school year.
The law does, however, make it clear that consultation regarding all relevant programs, “…shall occur before the local educational agency makes any decision that affects the opportunities of eligible private school children to participate.” (ESSA §1117(b)(3) and §8501(c)(3))
Don’t be frightened by the appearance of the word ‘assessment’ in the statutory language addressing consultation. Whereas regulations and guidance have yet to be issued (see sidebar on right), precedent has established that private school students who are recipients of ESEA services are not required to participate in state assessments. The purpose of the assessments in question is to help evaluate and fine tune the nature of the ESSA services provided. Chances are that whatever form(s) of evaluation your private school is already using – including, but not limited to teacher observations, teacher-constructed tests, journals, student’s work and other forms of “authentic assessment,” and school-selected standardized achievement tests – will prove sufficient to furnish such information.
Knowing how much money is available to pay for desired ESSA services is essential to thoughtful planning, and public school officials are required to make this information available during the process of consultation. A common problem faced by private school officials wishing to kick off consultation in a timely manner is that they are told by their public school district colleagues that the district is not in possession of “hard numbers.”
ESSA contains a new provision that should help to address this issue. Beginning in school year 2017-18, the California Department of Education must provide private school officials with timely notification of the amount of funding available in each district to provide services to private school students and/or educators under each of the relevant ESSA programs. (ESSA §1117(a)(4)(C) and §8505(a)(4)(C)) This means that the CDE will be responsible for acquiring the dollar figures at a sufficiently early date to make the availability of the information “timely.” Exactly how this will be accomplished will prove to be one of several implementation challenges faced by states and local school districts.
4. Pooling Funds
Like NCLB, ESSA contains provisions that permit certain groups of schools to pool their respective proportionate share of funds if they so choose. (ESSA §1117(b)(1)(J)(i) and §8501(c)(1)(H)(i)) As an example of how such an allowance might be used, all Catholic diocesan schools enrolling students who receive Title I services and reside within the same Title I participation area may wish to pool their Title I funds to secure uniform services from a third-party provider. Another example might consist of various private and independent schools situated within the same public school district deciding to pool Title II, Part A funds in order to secure professional development lectures delivered by a renowned presenter.
5. Written Affirmation
At the conclusion of a consultative meeting, private school officials will be handed a form which they will be asked to date and sign. The law requires LEAs to document in writing that meaningful consultation has occurred, and to transmit the written affirmations to state departments of education.
If a private school official doesn’t believe the consultation to have been meaningful, he/she should not agree to sign the affirmation. For example, if a district only invites private school educators participation in Title II, Part A professional development programs and activities developed for its public school teachers and/or principals, and refuses to create additional programs tailored to the particular needs of private schools, that’s not meaningful consultation. The same will be true if a district fails to follow the new statutory requirements governing the manner in which the proportionate share of funding for private school students and educators is calculated for the 2017-18 school year.
When ESSA’s new provisions go into effect (in 2017-18), the affirmation form will be required to “…provide the option for private school officials to indicate such officials’ belief that timely and meaningful consultation has not occurred or that the program design is not equitable with respect to eligible private school children.” (ESSA §1117(b)(5) and §8501(c)(5))
ESSA establishes the right of a private school official to file a complaint with the California Department of Education if the official believes:
- that consultation was not timely and meaningful; or,
- that due consideration of his/her views was not given by the public school district; or,
- that the public school district made a decision that failed to treat the private school or its students equitably
Under new provisions of ESSA, state departments of education must provide services (in lieu of local school districts), either directly, or through third-party providers if both of the following conditions are met:
- private school officials have requested such services directly; and,
- private school officials have “demonstrated that the local educational agency involved has not met the requirements of this section in accordance with the procedures for making such a request, as prescribed by the State educational agency.”
The second condition is confusing, and provides an excellent example of statutory language that is likely to be clarified through regulations and guidance.