WASHINGTON (February 4, 1999) -- A coalition of 14 public, private, and religious school organizations today challenged Congress to preserve Title I, a key element of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act when that landmark legislation is reauthorized this year.
"This was an historic achievement in the support for education in our country," said Father William Davis, a member of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, and the Representative for Catholic Schools and Federal Assistance for the U.S. Catholic Conference's Department of Education. "And frankly, ESEA -- and particularly Title I of the Act -- works well in assisting poor and educationally disadvantaged school children."
The current five-year authorization for the programs contained in the ESEA is set to expire this year. At a news conference today, the members of the coalition released a joint statement outlining six principles they expect the reauthorized Title I of ESEA to incorporate. They challenged Congress to pass a bill that:
- "is consistent with the child benefit principle of providing special types of assistance to meet the needs of disadvantaged school children and only incidentally serving the school or school district." The child benefit principle was a key element to overcoming legal and constitutional challenges to allowing the participation of private and religious school children in federal education programs.
- "is consistent with the public trustee principle -- Title I funds would flow to public authorities, who in turn would arrange for services to all eligible children." Like the child benefit principle, the public trustee principle was a critical element of the original 1965 legislation.
- "requires that public, private, and religious school officials continue to work together to provide benefits to poor and educationally disadvantaged children."
- "supplies substantial additional dollars to local school districts with the greatest number of poor and educationally disadvantaged children enrolled in public, private, and religious schools."
- "is a categorical program that targets resources to the most disadvantaged children and also permits flexibility in the use of these funds at the local level in order to meet the needs of children."
- "requires Title I funds supplement other education programs students are entitled to and prohibits the supplanting of these funds," thus avoiding the question of federal funds substituting for normal sources of program funding.
Originally passed in 1965, Title I of ESEA provides funding to local school districts to provide services to disadvantaged children, regardless of the type of school they attend. The introduction of the "child benefit" and "public trustee" principles helped to break a decades-old logjam on how to provide federal assistance to elementary and secondary education in all schools -- public, private, and religious.
The prospect of Congress considering proposals to block grant Title I funds or to create federally funded vouchers to pay for general education costs during the upcoming reauthorization process met with resistance among the coalition members. Such proposals are currently not "politically viable" and "will not improve Title I as a program to serve disadvantaged children," they said.
In addition to spelling out their expectations for the reauthorization of Title I, coalition members also pledged to work for full funding of the program, "so that all children in need of assistance receive the help they need." Current appropriations for Title I are not sufficient to reach all eligible students, according to the coalition.
Father Davis expressed gratitude to Jack Jennings, Director of the Center on Education Policy, for coordinating the year-long public-private forum that led to this statement.
"Jack was especially helpful in responding to the Bishops' 1995 call for all educators to join in a dialogue on education reform, and we hope this is the beginning of additional discussions on issues of common concern," said Father Davis.