On Thursday, the United States Senate passed the Every Student Achieves Act, which reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the major federal funding source for both public and private schools. The week before, the House of Representatives passed its version of the bill. The two bills, which have been languishing in Congress for eight years, will now go into conference to reconcile differences.
For the Orthodox Jewish community, the legislation is noteworthy because of new provisions that are intended to enhance the delivery of Title I and other important education services to Jewish and other private schools. While federal law mandates that private schools be treated on par with public schools in many programs, the reality is that too-often local authorities don’t adequately fulfill this requirement. The new law provides several mechanisms that will increase private school access and input during the consultation process, boost local accountability in these programs, and provide more meaningful recourse to private school parents who believe that their children are not receiving the services to which they are entitled.
Of further interest to the community are the two “school choice” amendments that were offered during Senate debate. The first, authored by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), would have let federal education dollars follow students to a school of their parents’ choice. The second, authored by Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), would give states the option of having Title I funds follow low-income children to the school of their choice. While we are disappointed that both amendments were defeated, we applaud Senators Alexander and Scott and note that the defeat of these bills was by narrow margins – marking significant progress at the federal level.
Over the past eight years, Agudath Israel’s Washington Office has worked closely with the Bush and Obama Administrations and Democratic and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill in crafting and promoting several of the important provisions that are now incorporated into the bills. We owe a debt of gratitude to the sponsors, Chairman John Kline (R-MN), Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), for helping our schools take this step forward.