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Opening Doors for Inclusion

Christie Bonfiglio, Ph.D. - Director, Program for Inclusive Education


Catholic schools are called to serve all students regardless of learning differences. In fact, Catholic Social Teaching and Church documents specifically outline our responsibility to individuals with disabilities. It is clear that schools and educators do not fundamentally oppose opening the doors to students with disabilities. We have a heart to welcome every learner. The obstacle most often expressed is one of resources—lack of knowledge, financial support, or personnel to meet unique student needs. Accessing Title funds are one way to provide these resources and remove the barrier so all students have the opportunity to attend Catholic schools.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is the 2015 federal law that ensures schools provide a quality education to all students. ESSA establishes specific requirements for achievement, holds schools accountable for progress, focuses on disadvantaged students, and provides Title funding to support these efforts. Titles I-IV are available to Catholic schools at their proportionate share. These funds are dispersed via the following categories:

  • Title I: High percentage of low income families
  • Title II: Professional development
  • Title III: Immigrant and limited English proficiency
  • Title IV: 21st Century Learning Programs (STEM and technology)

Catholic schools are entitled to their proportionate share of these funds. By working with the local education agency (LEA), Catholic schools should plan for and allocate these funds annually, which should result in clear delineation of the process and outcomes. Therefore, Catholic leaders should be proactive and engage with their local school district so that more dollars can be spent on direct services and professional development.

Title II is the most widely used for professional development. Most schools access these funds to partially or fully fund PIE professional learning opportunities, including on-site workshops, online modules, and training programs for educators. However, schools have creatively advocated for the use of Title I and Title IV for training to improve the achievement of students and increase parental involvement or increase the use of technology to support diverse learners. The language allows some room for interpretation, so it is important that you understand the process.

This process can be daunting. Each state has its own rules, and moreover, each LEA interprets these rules and facilitates the process how it sees fit. Many schools interact with multiple LEAs annually given their locations and school populations. Therefore, it is important that Catholic schools know and proactively engage with this process. The following steps can ensure you get the most bang for your buck!

1. Connect with your LEA.

Build your relationship through timely, proactive conversations. Consultation between the LEA and private school is required by legislation. However, this process will be enhanced if both parties feel empowered and accountable. Timely and sustained communication allows for understanding the consultation process while advocating for and ensuring Catholic schools obtain their proportionate share. 

 2. Understand ESSA and its positive impact on Catholic schools.

ESSA requires the consultative process between the LEA and the Catholic school for deciding what programs are equitable and effective for students. This process provides the school the opportunity to increase their funding because the needs of the students are taken into account. If Catholic school needs differ from those of the LEA, a separate program should be developed and delivered. When disputes occur, the Catholic school has access to an ombudsman—an individual designated to advocate for the proper designation, appointment, and empowerment of services. The ombudsman's role is to monitor and enforce equitable service provisions. 

 3. Know what constitutes or defines professional development.

Professional development (PD) can take many forms: on-site professional development, learning modules, and distance instruction, for example. However, given the many ways learning can occur, Catholic schools must be ready to advocate for the professional learning opportunities that will meet their needs. Request needs-assessments to identify specific and necessary skills. Include coaching that includes observations of classroom practice with site-specific feedback by highly qualified experts in the field. Catholic schools should propose PD that is data-driven and classroom-focused.  Identifying the school's needs and individualizing your learning opportunities will yield higher rates of success.

 4. Divide and conquer.

Many Catholic schools are working with multiple LEAs. If you have the luxury of collaborating with other schools in your area, take advantage of it. One or two people could become experts in this process and serve as the conversation facilitator for all of you. The LEA can build a strong relationship with a select few who advocate on behalf of each school. Having a few experts share their knowledge benefits all schools.

The Program for Inclusive Education is here to assist you. Title funds have been used to support PIE professional development in many forms. In addition, PIE has worked successfully with LEAs to provide the necessary documentation with specific language on proposals and necessary invoices to meet LEA-specific requirements and deadlines. Consider allocating your Title dollars for workshops, modules, coaching, or the cohort program and welcome, serve, and celebrate all students in your Catholic school!


There's still time to join our next cohort of Inclusive Educators! We are currently accepting applications for 5th cohort.

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