WFIS leader, Suzie Hanson, meets with US Dept. of Education to discuss Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos’ education priorities.

Washington private schools are well aware of the President’s budget cut of Title IIA funds.  When WFIS asked directly about the thinking behind this decision, the answer is that something needs to be cut and the funds to support teacher’s education has not proven to increase testing scores.

Title IIA is the most commonly utilized federally funded service for our schools and this proposed cut is disappointing. However, the US Dept. of Education leadership prioritizes private schools and it was clear in our meetings that despite the Title II cut, Secretary DeVos has private schools well-being in mind with all of her work.

Ebony Lee, US Dept. of Ed Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, gave an overview.  Lee worked at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for nine years. Prior to that, she worked for the U.S. Department of Education during the Bush administration.

Lee reiterated the well-documented commitment of the Secretary of Education to school choice and she confirmed that decisions at the Department of Ed. are being made in a new way and with private schools very much in mind.

The US Department of Education’s list of priorities include:

  1. Funding of 1.5 Billion for Schools Choice limited to states that already have programs, of which 500 million is for Charter Schools. Opportunity grants will be defined by demand.
  2. Supporting STEM education with 200 million, though it isn’t clear how much of that will be available to private schools.
  3. 2.7 Billion for hurricane recovery: The money is explicitly called out to include non-public schools. The application to apply for reimbursement or money to rebuild is coming out “very soon”. Determinations will be made based on need.  In our discussion it is clear that private schools impacted by hurricane need to be contacting their LEAs to let them know the extent of damage to schools.
  4. Expanding of high school and post high-school options (trade schools and alternative work training programs).
  5. Initiating new programs for School Safety. DEVOS is currently the chair of the school safety commission and is looking at issues with physical safety, mental health, and the way in which technology plays into both.

The CAPE Representatives encouraged Office of Special Education and Related Services personnel to improve funding and access to services through IDEA. They inquired about possible reauthorization, but were told that is not on horizon. IDEA, The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, is a law enacted in 2004 ensuring services to children with disabilities throughout the nation. The hope for many schools was that since ESSA has successfully improved the ways in which services are provided to private school students, that perhaps IDEA would have the same transformation.  However, that is not the case.

The other members of the Dept. of Education that came to fill in the details of the US Department’s goals included Jason Botel, Acting Assistant Secretary, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education; Office of Special Education and Related Services Johnny Collett, Assistant Secretary and Kimberly Richey, Deputy Assistant Secretary, as well as David Esquith, Director, Office of Safe and Healthy Students discussing the Hurricane Education Recovery Act (HERA).

image:  Ebony Lee, center, with Maureen Dowling ( R) and Jason Botel (L)