Thank You, CAPE; Thank You, Joe!

Make no mistake.  At its root, politics is all about power, understood as the ability of one individual or group to cause others to accept, or reconcile themselves to outcomes they would not otherwise have chosen. Some finesse power by offering various inducements, trade-offs, and compromises intended to garner voluntary compliance from would-be opponents.  Others simply bulldoze.  Whatever the degree of political capacity possessed by a person or group, one thing is clear: no political actor worth his or her salt voluntarily relinquishes power.

When Congress acted to create the position of a state ombudsman tasked with the responsibility of monitoring and enforcing those provisions of the nation’s primary federal education law that offer benefits to private school students and educators, it didn’t do so because a majority of U.S. representatives and senators were overcome with a sudden impulse to treat private schools more charitably.  Neither did lawmakers revise the calculation of of Title I and Title II, Part A “set-aside” funds in ways that will generally prove advantageous to private school students and teachers because the teachers unions thought it would be a kind gesture.

In fact, these and a host of other changes to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – formerly called the No Child Left Behand Act, and currently known as the Every Student Succeeds Act – were enacted thanks to the meticulously planned and brilliantly executed advocacy of the Council for American Private Education.  A national coalition of private school organizations, CAPE’s respective members represent schools accounting for roughly 80 percent of the nation’s total K-12 private school enrollment. Additionally, CAPE serves as an umbrella for 35 state-based private school coalitions.

Despite the remarkable diversity of its members, CAPE has succeeded in providing America’s private school community with a clear and coherent voice, whether on Capitol Hill, in the press, or in the broader public policy arena.  Through the development of issue papers on critical topics, the conduct of legislative advocacy, participation in the administrative rule making (i.e., regulatory) process, and commentary on judicial proceedings, CAPE performs an instrumental role in defining, preserving and advancing the common interests of America’s private schools.  Its effectiveness in so doing is all the more praiseworthy in light of the economy with which it operates.  More on that, later.

No recent accomplishment better exemplifies CAPE’s role than the inclusion of numerous “private school friendly” provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act.  The groundwork for this noteworthy political achievement was laid nearly a decade ago, when CAPE solicited suggested improvements to relevant sections of the No Child Left Behind Act from each of its stakeholder groups.  Some two dozen suggested changes to the law were vetted, pared down, and refined by the State-CAPE Network, the “Monthly Meeting Group” – an informal group of lobbyists, policy wonks, and practitioners friendly to CAPE, and, ultimately, by CAPE’s officers and board of directors. Finally, CAPE spearheaded a quiet, focused, and fruitful lobbying effort.

Of 18 proposed changes to the law, CAPE succeeded in seeing 13 fully enacted, and four partially adopted. An accounting of this remarkable feat is summarized here.  Yet, to fully appreciate its accomplishment, there’s one other fact about CAPE of which the reader should be aware.  The Council for American Private Education – representing over five million students and tens of thousands of schools, boasts a staff numbering exactly two persons: Executive Director Joe McTighe, and his assistant (and wife), Trish McTighe.

Joe McTighe

After 20 years of inspired service as CAPE’s leader and the primary spokesperson for American private K-12 education, Joe is poised to retire.  It is difficult to overstate the magnitude of his contributions to the organization he has served so capably, devotedly, and tirelessly.. At the time of his hire, CAPE’s future was by no means assured.  With trust among its stakeholders variable, relations between its board and state affiliates tepid, and its finances in recovery mode, the coalition was too fragile to tackle complex and divisive issues of policy.

Enter Joe.  Working closely with a reinvigorated board and a succession of strong board presidents, CAPE honed its identity, carved out its brand, galvanized support among its constituent groups, and made good on its claim to serve as the voice of America’s private schools.  In many respects, the organization has become a reflection of its executive: studious and reflective, deeply appreciative and respectful of religious and philosophical diversity, soft-spoken yet resolute, highly principled, forward-looking, results-oriented, and upbeat.

Here’s Joe making the case that private schools are “Good for students, good for families, and good for America:”

Joe was a natural for the position of CAPE Executive Director, having served as a teacher in a Catholic school located in a high-poverty section of Manhattan, and principal of a Catholic school in Albany before becoming steeped in federal education law and legislative advocacy over the course of fifteen years of service as Associate Director of the New York State Catholic Conference. A true lifelong learner, who enjoys listening to lectures on science, philosophy, history and the arts while jogging, Joe is a superb writer who is equally adept at finding the right voice for a mass-distributed newsletter, a set of formal comments on proposed administrative regulations, or a letter to a member of Congress or Secretary of Education. Joe’s intelligence, keen wit, kind and gentle demeanor, soft-spoken eloquence, and modesty have garnered respect and esteem from friends and would-be adversaries, alike. And, oh yes…he and Trish have become zealous devotees of ballroom dancing, often taking a quick break from the demands and stress of their work with an in situ foxtrot, rhumba, or cha-cha.

Joe has been my teacher, mentor, and friend. He has been an inestimable source of assistance to CAPSO, and an indispensable font of information, guidance and wisdom for me, my colleagues around the country, and those we serve.. As he and Trish look ahead to life beyond CAPE, I know that CAPSO’s leadership joins me in wishing them continued good health, engagement in meaningful and fulfilling projects and activities of their choosing, and pleasurable time spent with family and friends. More power to you, Joe and Trish!


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