Won’t Get Fooled Again

I began my tenure as CAPSO’s Executive Director in 2002 – the same year in which the No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law.  Over the course of NCLB’s fourteen-year shelf-life, I’ve learned a great deal about the myriad factors that influence the manner in which our nation’s most significant education law is, or is not implemented.  It has been a difficult learning process.  At times, it’s been downright painful, as the following example illustrates.

In 2008, President George W. Bush cut funding for Title V of NCLB out of the budget, and Congress didn’t see fit to quibble.  Title V contained an “Innovative Programs” component from which funding for statewide professional development opportunities for private school educators, as well as a “Mini-Grants” program for private schools had been sourced.  These programs, which were developed and monitored by the California Private School Advisory Committee, were extremely popular and widely regarded for having made high-quality learning opportunities available at the lowest-possible cost to participants.  With funding about to dry up, the future of these programs was in jeopardy.

The No Child Left Behind Act consisted of 670 pages of ‘legalese’.  I had forced myself to read the entire law more than once, and had scoured the sections that were most relevant to private schools countless times.  Now that the chips were down, I somehow managed to unearth a provision that had previously escaped my attention.  It wasn’t found in Title V, but in Title II, the portion of the law that was titled, “Preparing, Training, and Recruiting High Quality Teachers and Principals.”  Title II was all about professional development, and it was not being de-funded.

One section of Title II, Part A permitted a state department of education to reserve up to 2.5% of its total Title II, Part A allocation in order to fund “state activities” which could include “providing professional development for teachers and principals.”  Most of the remainder of the Title II funds were passed from the state to local public school districts.  To the extent that a district spent those funds on professional development, it was required to provide a proportionate amount of federal dollars to provide professional development programming to educators employed by private schools located within its boundaries.
A light flashed.  If the Title II , Part A private school equitability provision applied at the local district level, might it not also apply at the state level?  I put the question to then-CDE Deputy Superintendent Anthony Monreal, in the form of a letter of inquiry.  He passed it on to the U.S. Department of Education. Within the year, the matter was addressed in the form of non-regulatory guidance through the following question: “Must an SEA provide equitable services to private school teachers with the Title II, Part A funds reserved for State activities?”   And here’s how the feds answered:

“Yes. Section 9501(a) of the ESEA requires States that receive allocations under specified programs – of which Title II, Part A is one – to provide services to private school students and teachers. As a result, each SEA must use a portion of the funds its reserves under Title II, Part A for State-level activities to provide equitable services to private school teachers, principals and other staff for activities identified in section 2113 of the ESEA. The amount reserved for such purposes is based upon the number of eligible children enrolled in private elementary and secondary schools in the State.”

As a result of the new federal guidance, it was determined that California’s private school teachers and administrators were eligible to receive roughly a half-million dollars worth of professional development opportunities per annumGreat, right?  But wait!  This also meant that over the entirety of the period 2003-2008, some $2.5 million worth of professional learning activities had been lost because the law hadn’t been implemented as intended.

My partial sense of satisfaction was further diminished when, in 2014, it dawned upon me that the state might be miscalculating the amount of Title II, Part A state activity funding it was required to set aside to provide equitable services for private school educators. As it turned out, the state had been taking a substantial amount of money “off the top” to fund professional development programs at the post-secondary level.  An inquiry to the U.S. Department of Education revealed that to be a no-no.  Once again, it was shown that private school educators had not received their due.

NCLB has now given way to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  The new law contains many provisions not found in NCLB that are favorable to private school students and educators.  As but one example, state departments of education will now be required to furnish appropriate private school officials with timely notification of the amount of funding available to their eligible students and staff for all programs containing equitability provisions.  These include Title I, Title II, Part A, Title III (Language Instruction for English Learners and Immigrant Students), and others.  Under NCLB, this responsibility was left entirely to public school districts, which often dragged their heels, making it difficult for private school administrators to plan in a timely manner.

Determining the amount of funding available to every qualifying private school for every relevant ESSA program, and notifying appropriate officials in a timely manner will be a monumental task for the California Department of Education.  Moreover, another provision of the new law requiring the commitment of funds within the same fiscal year in which the federal dollars are received by a school district will make it imperative that the CDE furnish private school officials with the available dollar figures at the earliest possible date.

Most of ESSA’s new provisions will not take effect until the 2017-2018 school year.  The CDE must not wait until then to obtain a full understanding of its additional obligations to private school students and educators, lest the new law be violated and additional millions of dollars lost. To avoid such an outcome, the Department must have personnel and procedures in place no later than January 1, 2017.  And, to do that, our CDE colleagues must accord a sense of urgency to an examination of the provisions of ESSA relating to private schools.

Under NCLB, the private school community gave the CDE every benefit of every doubt.  We will continue to work with our colleagues at the Department in a cordial and collaborative manner.  But this time around, we will expect more of ourselves and the state’s education leaders. On March 29, CAPSO’s Vice-President, Berit von Pohle, Public Policy Committee Chair Raymond Burnell, and I met with top-echelon CDE staff to deliver the message. It was a collegial and positive meeting in which frank concerns were expressed.  Chief Deputy Superintendent, Glen Price, and Tom Adams, the Deputy Superintendent responsible for the branch with which we work most closely, are relatively new to their positions.  Happily, both are capable leaders who appear to be genuinely attentive to our concerns, and willing to work collaboratively to understand and implement ESSA for the benefit of all those it intends to assist.  Stay tuned!


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