Top private school representatives met recently with the Obama-Biden Transition team to discuss priorities and various legislative agenda items. The meeting was arranged by the Council for American Private Education (CAPE).
The transition team’s Education Policy Working Group is currently in the process of gathering school information and data, as well as becoming more familiar with the education community and its various needs. The new Administration and Congress will be dealing with major pieces of education legislation, including the reauthorizations of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
“We applaud the Obama team for reaching out to all schools – including private and religious schools — in the hope of addressing problems that all too often are neglected on the state and local levels,” said Rabbi Abba Cohen, director and counsel of Agudath Israel of America’s Washington office. “They understand the need for a federal role to make sure that assistance is going to those children who are needy and eligible.”
The private school representatives covered various critical areas, such as private school independence and accountability, as well as school choice programs and early childhood education. Rabbi Cohen was asked to discuss the private school stake in NCLB (the federal government’s primary education funding statute, including Title I) and IDEA (the federal special education program).
Agudath Israel, which advocates on behalf of Jewish schools and the families they serve, has been heavily involved, and is an influential voice, in education law and policy. Rabbi Cohen pointed out to transition staff that in recent years “equitable participation” of private school children in federal aid programs has strengthened in both scope and depth and encouraged the new Administration to continue this trend. He suggested specific ways – through consultation with local authorities, streamlined due process and appropriate funding mechanisms – to achieve greater equity.
At the same time, the Orthodox Jewish representative noted that, while some progress has been made in special education services for private school children, meaningful legislative steps still need to be taken to reach true equity for these students. These include requiring “on-site” services and culturally appropriate placements – issues of particular importance to disabled students within the Jewish community.
Most of all, Rabbi Cohen argued, the federal law’s mandate of equitable participation must be effectively achieved by finally making it clear in law that private school children have the same entitlement to services as public school students – as the lack of such clarity has greatly disadvantaged needy private school children.
On Tuesday, President-Elect Obama nominated superintendant of Chicago schools Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education.
(YWN Desk – NYC)