1-aasa-logo.jpg school innovations and achievement 

This document is one in a series of reports on key aspects of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) produced in a partnership between AASA, The School Superintendents Association and School Innovations & Achievement’s Cabinet Report. The full set of resources is available at aasa.org/AASAESSA.aspx.

 ESSA mandate will likely boost private schools' share of Title I

The inclusion of faith-based private schools as a recipient of the new source of federal education funding was a key compromise worked out by the Johnson administration during the original construction of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965

In the decades since, district administrators have been required to engage in a complex and often time consuming process to consult with area private schools and negotiate a fair share of Title I funding, as well as other federal education sources.

Enactment of the Every Student Succeeds Act last December didn’t include significant changes to the equitable share process–except in two ways:

  • First, ESSA requires that school districts calculate funds for Title I services to private school students based on its total Title I entitlement.
  • Secondly, ESSA calls on states to designate an “ombudsman” to act as a monitor to ensure private school students are getting an equitable share of federal support.

The net result from the accounting change is that private schools are generally going to get a larger share of the district’s federal allocation than they did under the No Child Left Behind Act.

While there could have been some political motivation to improve federal support for private schools serving disadvantaged students, there are also practical reasons for the change.

Consider that, in the past, district managers responsible for overseeing federal programs needed to first identify the number of students within their jurisdiction that qualified for Title I support but were attending private schools. ESSA makes no significant changes to this process.

The prior version of ESEA established a formal consultation process for the district and each local private school to confirm the number of eligible students and what services needed to be provided. 

The sharing of the Title I itself, however, was governed by a set of rules that allowed the districts to deduct the cost of its administrative and indirect services from the total allocation before calculating the share that needed to be provided to private schools.

In the case of districts that were identified as “failing” under NCLB and referred for Program Improvement, district managers were also allowed to deduct off the top costs related to intervention such as transportation of students, the school choice option, or supplemental education services such as after school tutoring. 

That consultation requirement remains, but ESSA changes the process so that the private school share is calculated before the district takes out those costs–which include indirect and administrative cost reservations.

Although this change will result in only a marginal benefit to private schools in some cases, analysis from the Alliance for Catholic Education estimated that in some districts, Title I allocations to private schools serving disadvantaged students could increase by as much as 50 percent to 75 percent.

The introduction of an ombudsman is also new with ESSA. The legislative language provides some insight into how the new office will interact with districts, but there’s a good sense much of the ombudsman’s activities and what happens when a district is found to be out of compliance will likely come from regulations.

Here’s the operative section of the law:

(B) Ombudsman.--To help ensure such equity for such private school children, teachers, and other educational personnel, the State educational agency involved shall designate an ombudsman to monitor and  enforce the requirements of this part.”