WASHINGTON (October 6, 2005)- The Secretary for Education at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) told the education committees in Congress that assistance to schools affected by the hurricanes should be provided equitably to all, without regard to the type of school.
Sister Glenn Anne McPhee, OP, also expressed "significant reservations" with the apparent decision by Congress to use No Child Left Behind as a model for providing aid.
Sister McPhee wrote to the House Education and the Work Force Committee and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, October 5. Committee members are considering federal assistance to the areas affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
"The hurricanes did not distinguish between public, private or religious schools at any level: pre-school, elementary, secondary, or postsecondary," said Sister McPhee. "Therefore assistance should be equitably provided to all those affected in a way that will be the most effective, flexible, and quickest way of accomplishing the goal of restoring some degree of normality to the lives of all those impacted and displaced. Eligibility to receive assistance should not require a means test or a minimum number of displaced or impacted students enrolled in a school. That assistance should be crafted in such a way as to enable schools to meet the wide list of needs of displaced children."
The USCCB official cited her own experience as a Catholic schools superintendent in implementing NCLB/ESEA programs to explain her "significant reservations" about using this approach as an efficient, effective, and equitable way to address the situation. She said:
--Expediting aid is paramount. "By the time aid would reach any private school serving affected students through an SEA/LEA model, the school year would be mostly over and students would have had to do without because aid was not forthcoming."
--Need for streamlined approach: "Aid needs to reach schools in the most expeditious manner. Setting up a system where information goes from the private school to the LEA and then to the SEA, followed by aid going to the SEA, on to the LEA, and then, through consultation, to the private schools is unworkable if we are committed to aiding these children and families now."
--Current situation for NCLB programs: "NCLB/ESEA has served private school students through LEAs since 1965, yet every year there are delays throughout the country in initiating consultation, determining a program design, and delivering a program. There is no reason to believe that adding a program to the NCLB will change the situation for the better, particularly considering the crisis situation that similarly located LEAs are experiencing."
-- Adding new administrative burdens to LEAs and private and religious schools: "Public, private, and religious school administrators, who have taken in large numbers of affected children, are working long hours on behalf of these children and their families with limited resources. Asking them to engage in a consultation process is unfair and unrealistic."
--Authorizing the LEA to hire teachers and purchase materials does not meet the immediate needs: "Some private and religious schools have already hired teachers and purchased books and supplies, all without tuition payments or government aid. To provide government aid through an equitable services model at this late date does not meet these critical needs."
--Bypass adds to the burden and time: "For states with prohibitive state constitutions, even a provision for a bypass will critically delay the aid reaching the schools serving affected children."
Sister McPhee said the Catholic school community in the two most impacted areas---Louisiana and Texas—has assured the USCCB that the NCLB procedure would be totally unresponsive to their immediate and pressing needs. She said the USCCB staff is willing to work with all parties to craft appropriate legislation to address the situation.