The sweeping education bill President Barack Obama signed into law Thursday was welcomed by community advocates, who said that the legislation contains many key improvements for yeshivos and private schools throughout the country.
After eight years of haggling, congressional leaders in both parties came to an agreement earlier this month on terms to renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The result has been the “Every Student Succeeds Act,” which undoes many key elements of the 2001 renewal known as “No Child Left Behind.”
While congressional negotiations mostly focused on the appropriate level of federal involvement in public schools, advocates of religious and private schools lobbied steadily for clauses that would help make the government’s promise of “equity” in funding and delivery of applicable federal programs to non-private schools a reality.
Agudath Israel of America worked together with the Council for American Private Education, a major lobbying group that advocates for the interests of secular and religious private schools on the federal level, in campaigning for several key changes to existing legislation. The Orthodox Union’s Washington advocacy arm has also been at the forefront of this effort.
Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel of America’s vice president for federal affairs and Washington director, said that the bill represents a “meaningful step” in ensuring fair treatment of yeshivos by local school boards who will administer the delivery of programs.
Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy for the Orthodox Union, who attended the White House signing, concurred, saying that “the revised law contains critical provisions to better ensure students in Jewish and other non-public schools will receive federally funded education services.”
Among the provisions regarding private schools are: a broader consultation process between school boards and private schools, greater accountability on the part of school districts in their delivery or denial of services, and easier recourse to state and federal authorities in the event services are denied. The programs authorized by ESEA have also been expanded.
In keeping with the general theme of the legislation, which takes broad steps in reducing the federal role in local education policy, it also protects the independence of non-public schools, guarding them from government interference.
“Maintaining private-school autonomy and equal access to student services is critically important,” Lauren Aronson, press secretary, Education and the Workforce Committee at the U.S. House of Representatives, told Hamodia. “That’s why the Every Student Succeeds Act protects the ability of private and independent schools to provide a quality education to students and families, as well as operate free from federal interference.”
Rabbi Cohen told Hamodia that in order to maximize the benefits of the legislation, administrators of mosdos must “develop good working relationships with local authorities” and familiarize themselves with the many relevant details of the bill.
“They should understand that equity for private and religious schools is a federal mandate, not something a school district does out of the kindness of its heart,” he said. “Yeshivos and day schools and the families they serve have every right to make sure there is proper outreach, consultation, accountability, flexibility and transparency — as required in this new law. The more favorable funding framework for our schools will only matter if school administrators know their rights, are prepared to exercise them, and act when they believe they are being shortchanged.”