The Council for American Private Education hosted its summer conference in Detroit, July 15-17, 2018


The Executive Directors of each state’s private school advocacy organization met in Detroit this summer for two-days of exploring new educational trends, swapping successful advocacy work to be replicated in other states, and strategizing on legislation.  The conference covered:

  • Parental Choice–Panel Discussion
  • Private School Enrollment Challenges–Presentation
  • School relations with funders—Panel discussion
  • The impact of state funding on religious and early learning programs—Advocacy Discussion
  • Agile strategic plans–Presentation


Parental CHOICE—Panel Discussion

  • Myles Mendoza, Empower Illinois
  • Darrell Allison, American Federation for Children
  • Michael Chartier, EdChoice.

The panel discussed the strategy behind Illinois’ choice movement led by Empower Illinois, a nonprofit committed to providing low-income and working-class families the opportunity to explore new, quality K-12 education options through private school scholarships and advocating for innovation in Illinois education.

They answered some of the questions around how Illinois was able to start a Choice program in a politically left-leaning city. There are a lot of lessons in their approach that are replicable. These three esteemed school choice strategist shared what language and messaging works and what doesn’t, articulated the negative language that perpetuates the rhetoric on both sides of the issue and described pathways forward.

If Parental Choice interests you, please send an email to


Enrollment Trends

Aimee Gruber, Enrollment Management Association  (EMA)

Aimee Gruber believes there is power in using data for successful marketing.  The EMA has the data on private schools necessary for making good decisions to attract and retain students (and their parents!).

Aimee Gruber is an expert on enrollment trends.  She walked the CAPE State representatives through a comprehensive survey and the latest data on enrollment.  The parent survey Gruber referenced unveiled some of what influences parent decision-making. For example, Gruber confirmed that the mom is the parent that generally shows up to view and vet a school.  These moms highly value the child’s opinion and significantly rely on it for making the final decision about schools.  These moms also value diversity in the student body and often walk away from the website and the school if the school cost is perceived to be too high.

Among Gruber’s many data-driven recommendations, is to make sure that marketing videos appeal to adults and students by being informative, funny, and technologically relevant.  She reminds schools to build stronger tuition pages on their websites that include transparency on a school’s financial aid policy and process and perhaps even a calculator that allows parents to input financial information and see potential aid.  Six of ten families in her survey said they are willing to apply for financial aid, so schools need to make it easy and easy to understand.  She also pointed out that a re-visit day—a visit after acceptance–significantly influences the parent’s and the student’s decision to choose a school.

Private Schools and Their Relationships to Foundations and other Funders:  Panel

  • Panel Jason Zylstra, DeVos Family Foundation
  • Sam Kennedy, AIMS Education Foundation
  • Joaquin Nuno Whelan, General Motors
  • Mike Khoury, Detroit Cristo Rey High School

The panel on foundations and funders discussed ways in which schools establish connections with foundations, the expectations and connection to the mission of foundations and the ways to sustain support from foundations.  Highlighted was the unique relationship between General Motors and Cristo Rey High School

Cristo Rey High School is a private Catholic school for low-income students—only low-income students.  The school has a four-day class schedule.  On the fifth day, students work.  This concept for teaching students how to work in both small and large companies within Detroit requires the school to establish solid relationships with local businesses.

General Motors has gotten involved to support Cristo Rey.  Joaquin Nuno Whelan from General Motors saw an opportunity, started small, and has built the relationship slowly. The connection has been incredible for students and the engineers at General Motors. Students learn to apply their engineering skills and develop strong work habits and skills to thrive in a corporate environment.  General Motor’s employees enjoy being mentors and learning by teaching. The stories of how this partnership has changed the trajectory of children’s lives and added to the wellbeing of the employees were remarkable.


The impact of public funding on private and religious early education programs

CAPE leaders from each state are working to illuminate for state governments the success of private school early learning programs.  This recognition will help state’s maximize the benefits of our programs, which bring quality and diversity to families, and protect these programs from the creeping uniformity inherent in state government controlled early learning programming.

Early learning is in the national spotlight.  There are positive and negative consequences to this intense attention.  For private schools with early learning programs, the proven track record of success is often ignored or diminished with the focus instead on a one- dimensional approach to education. Private schools want to encourage states to recognize and protect the quality programming that currently exists while improving the programs that need the states’ input and support.

Private schools have succeeded in establishing alignment with K-12 schools.  They provide high quality programs to diverse communities by offering financial aid.  Private school use both the market—parents choosing to attend—and formal accreditation to clarify value and improve their programs. Private schools have a long history of teaching children the social-emotional skills needed to be successful in school.

State-crafted quality rating systems, well-intentioned universal preschool, and higher education supported increases in professional requirements for teachers and administrators have unintended consequences that can squash the best programs.  Quality rating systems are narrow and typically reward one type of program—usually play-based.  Any other strong pedagogy loses by simply being a different.   States rate programs publicly.  If a program doesn’t do well on a single test- the state’s quality rating system—a system that rewards play-based curriculum, the success of their business is undermined.  And if the end result is that only the businesses rated well by the state survive, the wealth of diversity in options for children dies.

Universal preschool is meant to protect families from the high cost for childcare.   However, it only works if it supports children ages 3-5, not just 4 year olds.   It’s most successful also if it allows families to choose from different kinds of programs.  When a city/ state provides free childcare for four year olds only and in a specific kind of program, it creates a vacuum of enrollment in other programs by drawing out students once they turn four. No childcare program can survive if half of the enrollment leaves the second year of attendance.  Also, if the state only supports one kind of program, then religious, Montessori, Waldorf, academic, center and family-home programs fail. The government needs a sophisticated and nuanced approach to early learning that supports pluralism.  If we are to say that diversity is important to our communities, then the government needs to lead the way and support children to attend high quality programming in all of its forms from ages three, on.

Lastly, new education requirements for teachers created unintended consequences that challenge early learning systems. In house training is considered by many providers as a more impactful way to improve and sustain great teachers.  There is currently a shortage of teachers across the education spectrum, and requiring higher education without substantial pay increases encourages teachers to find work in the K12 system where the pay is better instead of staying with early learning.  Also, teachers who have been in the system for decades and have excellent performance reviews are not inclined to head back to school for degrees that will not impact the trajectory of their careers. Colleges and Universities are pressing for more educational requirements for early learning teachers, but the state needs to balance the self serving nature of these requirements with the reality of early learning providers and true improvement to outcomes for kids.

Quality rating systems, universal preschool and increased education requirements are being implemented in most states as the demand for high quality, affordable childcare increases.  All three have a place in the improvement of the early learning systems within each state.  However, private schools who currently support quality early learning programs advocate for recognition of their quality and for the pluralism that is key to the support of diverse families within our communities.