“We really don’t care if it’s public or private” stated Veronica Tate, director of the Office of Administration and Accountability at the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). “We want to make sure parents have the right and most up-to-date information to make good choices.”
In April 2014, the Office of Innovation and Improvement’s Office of Non-Public Education (ONPE) facilitated a promising practices webinar in which officials from the VDOE and Virginia Council for Private Education discussed their successful partnership to launch a state-level equitable services working group. The state takes its obligation to provide equitable services seriously, and has taken a deliberate review of the law and associated guidance. “It is up to us,” Tate emphasized, to “ensure that our students, parents and the teachers … are served.” In addition, she indicated that technical assistance provided by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) influenced the state’s efforts to help districts understand their obligation to provide equitable services under applicable federal education programs.
ED issues plan of action
ED is committed to advancing needed education reforms to improve educational outcomes, close achievement gaps, increase equity, and improve the quality of instruction for all students. ED implements numerous federal programs to support these goals. Students enrolled in nonprofit private elementary and secondary schools, including religious schools, have been eligible to participate in certain programs under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) since its passage in 1965. State and local educational agencies (SEAs and LEAs) are required to ensure the equitable participation of private school students as well as teachers and parents, as applicable, in the appropriate ESEA programs. In addition, SEAs and LEAs must provide for the equitable participation of parentally placed private school students with disabilities in programs assisted or carried out under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Part B.
Last year, ED affirmed its commitment to ensure that SEAs meet these equitable services requirements, and that the SEAs, in turn, ensure that LEAs meet their equitable services obligations. In March 2013, ED issued a letter to chief state school officers, state and local federal education program directors, and private school leaders. The letter acknowledged ongoing efforts of SEAs and LEAs, in conjunction with private school officials, to provide private school students and, as appropriate, teachers and parents the opportunity to participate equitably in ESEA and IDEA programs. In addition, the letter included an equitable services implementation plan (ESIP) focused on four elements that ED would undertake — outreach, promoting and encouraging promising practices, technical assistance, and monitoring — to improve implementation of the equitable services requirements.
Spotlight on activities
Since the issuance of the plan, ED has implemented activities in each of the four key elements including:
- launching the ESIP website to centralize information;
- holding nationwide conference calls to provide an initiative overview for officials from national, regional, state, and local associations; representatives from private and public schools; and third-party contractors;
- conducting monitoring interviews with state officials to ensure accountability for providing equitable services;
- providing guidance to individuals, small groups, and larger audiences, and addressing concerns as they arise; and
- hosting technical assistance webinars.
The webinar series, facilitated by ONPE and program experts from the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, focused on a range of equitable services requirements: Title I, Part A – Improving Basic Programs Operated by LEAs; Title II, Part A – Improving Teacher Quality State Grants; Title III, Part A – English Language Acquisition; and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Part B – Assistance for Education of All Children with Disabilities.
Some SEAs have taken steps to strengthen their districts’ implementation of equitable services by requesting technical assistance from ED. Recently, Jane Ross, California Department of Education programs consultant in the Title II Leadership Office, requested a webinar focused on Title II, Part A – Improving Teacher Quality State Grants to cultivate technical knowledge among district staff and mitigate the impact of staff turnover. Following the event, she commented, “We’re very appreciative of all that went into planning and conducting the webinar and think it was a very worthwhile undertaking.” She acknowledged a fair amount of turnover in some of the California districts, noting that information provided by the webinar was “very helpful and certainly timely.”
SEAs and LEAs are encouraged to reach out to ONPE if they would like support for their efforts regarding equitable services provisions.
Promoting promising practices in partnership
As part of ED’s deep commitment to building meaningful partnerships with practitioners, ED invites state and local federal education administrators, public and private school officials, as well as association leaders to share their practices for implementing ESEA or IDEA equitable services in the comments section following this article. This feedback will help ONPE conduct outreach and spotlight practices in the future. In addition, sharing insights here can bring positive exposure to organizations and activities.
In response to an inquiry at the 2013 National Blue Ribbon Schools Awards Ceremony, Secretary Duncan emphasized the value of private schools and declared the distinction between private and public schools a “false debate, false competition.” He invited engagement by “both sides to share best practices, to share challenges, to come at this humbly.”
Isadora Binder is a management and program analyst in the Office of Non-Public Education division of the Office of Innovation and Improvement.