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Why the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Is a Win for Catholic Schools

Monday, December 14, 2015


For a more detailed look at the original ESEA and the effects of the new ESSA on Catholic schools, see this memo from friend of ACE Steve Perla.

When the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was signed into law in 1965, it was seen as a milestone on the path to ensuring every student had fair and equal opportunities to receive an excellent education.  For many, this was great news.

With a focus on closing the achievement gap between low and middle income children, the legislation was a marquee piece of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” Despite the significant changes that have come with reauthorization every five years since 1965, ESEA hasn’t strayed too far from its original purpose; namely, aiming to provide all children with equitable educational opportunities. Again, encouraging news.

For Catholic schools, the good tidings have come in the form of access to title funds authorized for professional development and instructional materials for teachers, and for resources to support educational programs specifically for disadvantaged students or those with learning differences. So far, so good. But, for a number reasons, some more well-documented than others, fair and full access to the title funds proved difficult to achieve. Private schools often received much less financial support for their students than public schools did. That is about to change.

On Thursday, December 10, 2015, President Obama signed long-awaited reauthorization legislation–the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)–that contains major revisions to the title funding mechanisms.

Here is what every Catholic school educator needs to know:

  1. The new bill requires that a school district calculate funds for Title I services to private school students with learning differences based on its total Title I allocation. Previously, a district could exclude certain expenditures for other purposes and thereby reduce the allocation available for sharing beyond the local public schools. In many districts, this change could increase Title I allocations to serve private school students by as much as 50-75 percent.

  2. Similarly, a school district now must disseminate its Title II-A funds proportionately. The district must set aside a fair share of these funds for services to teachers in private schools based on its total Title II-A allocation. The previous iteration of the law allowed a district to calculate its shares based on a smaller allocation–only the funds it chose to earmark for professional development. Most districts now will see a significant increase in allocations available for services to private school teachers.

  3. The ESSA also creates two new grant programs, one for Student Support and Academic Enrichment and one for High Ability Learners and Learning. As with the legal changes already mentioned, private and public schools must participate equitably in this grant funding. 

    The Student Support and Academic Enrichment program is broadly defined, giving states and school districts flexibility in using the grant for a range of educational purposes. These include health and safety, technology, foreign language instruction, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education, and more. 

    The High Ability Learners and Learning program affords to high potential students various educational challenges that capitalize upon and then advance even further their academic propensities.

In short, the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act and its 2001 reauthorization (“No Child Left Behind”) provided title funds so that public and private schools alike could help meet a variety of needs among their students and teachers. But private schools, including Catholic schools, often did not receive an equitable share of the funds because of the way allocations could be calculated.

As of December 10, now they do. It’s a clear win for Catholic schools when all is said and done.