Someone is Watching
Last week, I submitted a one-sentence public comment in response to an obscure announcement buried within the California Department of Education’s website. At issue is a pending request from the CDE to the U.S. Department of Education to extend the period of time in which the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) may spend federal funds allocated in 2021. My brief public comment, delivered on behalf of the California Association of Private School Organizations (CAPSO), expressed support for CDE’s request.
There’s a complex history behind CDE’s request and CAPSO’s statement of support. A highly-condensed version is as follows: Several years ago, LAUSD changed the way it counted low-income students for purposes of implementing Title I of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles (ADLA) and Builders of Jewish Education (BJE) – each of which is a member of CAPSO – filed separate complaints to CDE in which it was alleged that LAUSD failed to afford due consideration to the views of private school officials as required by the underlying statute. When CDE found in favor of ADLA and BJE, and ordered corrective action from LAUSD, LAUSD appealed to the U.S. Department of Education.
The federal statute contains a provision that establishes a deadline for the resolution of such appeals. It reads as follows: “The Secretary shall investigate and resolve the appeal not later than 90 days after receipt of the appeal.” (ESSA Section 8503(b)). Although LAUSD’s appeal was submitted in July, 2021, the USDE has yet to issue a resolution. If USDE supports the corrective action ordered by CDE, LAUSD will need to marshal the resources necessary to fulfill its obligations. And it stands to lose access to a portion of those resources unless permission to extend access to Title I funds allocated in 2021 is granted by USDE.
Given that CDE’s requested extension is occasioned by USDE’s inability to abide by the law it exists to enforce, it would be shocking if the feds were to deny the request. To suggest that a one-sentence declaration of support from CAPSO would sway the USDE’s response would be to engage in a shameless act of self-flattery. But that’s not to say that the filing served no purpose.
So why did we register our public comment?
The answer is simple: If we don’t show that we’re paying attention, we’ll be treated as if we’re not there. Our comment may not move the needle on the underlying issue, but CDE, the State Board of Education, LAUSD, and the USDE will know that we’re watching. Just as our state law makers know we’re looking over their shoulders every time we seek clarification of language in a pending bill, testify before a legislative committee, or visit a legislator’s office. The minute we stop watching, those we seek to influence will pretend we don’t exist.
CAPSO was watching in 2008, when it came to our attention that California was failing to utilize a portion of the No Child Left Behind funds it opted to reserve for “state activities” to provide equitable state-level services to private school educators. In fact, until CAPSO secured guidance from the USDE that confirmed its assertion that “state activity” funds were subject to federal equitable services requirements, no state fulfilled this obligation. Today, the reservation of such funds for the provision of statewide professional development programing for private school teachers and administrators is well established. In the current year, alone, California has reserved $1,639,000 to provide such services, which include an array of online continuing professional education opportunities that can be explored at the CaPSPDNOW website.
We were on the lookout when, in 2014, California Public Utilities Commission staff proposed a change to the rules governing participation in the California Teleconnect Fund that would have imposed a means testing requirement upon the state’s private schools, while exempting public schools. (The proposal was ultimately scrapped.)
We are watching when law makers include private schools in proposed legislation to which they ought not be subject, and prevail upon them to write private schools out of the bills (AB 543 and AB 452 are but two of many examples). And we’re paying attention when legislators fail to write private schools into proposed laws, when inclusion would redound to their benefit. A recent example occurred when SB 1299 was inadvertently amended so as to exclude private school students from participation in the California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science (COSMOS) program operated by the University of California.
Of course, we don’t always prevail, but we do strive to remain vigilant. With thousands of new bills about to enter the hopper, and a bumper crop of new legislators in Sacramento, there’s no time like the present to remind our elected officials that we’re looking out for the common interests of California’s private school community.