Sneak Preview: ED Developing Guidance on School Choice Programs

October 14, 2016 | By Jerry Ashworth | Post a Comment

xgran_bookshot(The following was excerpted from a recent article in the Federal Grants Management Handbook.) The Department of Education (ED) is developing guidance detailing the responsibilities of state educational agencies (SEAs) and local educational agencies (LEAs) to ensure that they comply with the equitable services provisions under federal programs as they apply to students enrolled in private schools under state voucher and education savings account programs, according to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

Participation in voucher and education savings account programs, which are administered by states to fund private school tuition and other educational expenses, has more than doubled in the past five years, the GAO report states, adding that the number of students participating in private school choice programs has risen from about 70,000 in school year 2010-2011 to about 147,000 in school year 2014-2015. Two federal grant programs administered by ED also provide funding to school districts to assist students in private schools. Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (Pub. L. 94-142), which ensures students with a disability are provided with free appropriate public education that is tailored to their individual needs, and Title I-A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) (Pub. L. 114-95), both provide funds to serve eligible private school students.

IDEA requires public school districts to provide for the participation of parentally placed private school children with disabilities in programs assisted or carried out under IDEA Part B. However, ED guidance states that a school district’s obligations to parentally placed private school students with disabilities are not the same as those for students enrolled in public schools or to students with disabilities placed in a private school by a public agency.

In addition, federal law requires districts to use a portion of their federal funds under Title I-A of ESEA to provide benefits and services, on an equitable basis, to eligible private school students. Generally, expenditures for services to private school students must be equal to the expenditures for services to public school students on a per-pupil basis, taking into account the number and educational needs of the children to be served.

GAO stated that the increased participation in private school choice programs may increase the number of private school students who are eligible for and receive federally funded IDEA and Title I-A equitable services. Officials in most public school districts the GAO interviewed could not quantify the financial implications of their private school choice programs.

However, many SEA and LEA officials told the GAO that providing equitable services in the context of private school choice programs created confusion and made these services more time-consuming to provide. Specifically, some state and local officials said they were confused about whether participation in private school choice programs changed students’ eligibility for federally funded equitable services or changed the LEA’s roles and responsibilities in providing these services. For example, two LEAs that GAO visited questioned whether a student’s participation in private school choice programs changed their eligibility or priority for IDEA and Title I-A equitable services.

(The full version of this story has now been made available to all for a limited time on Thompson’s Grants Compliance Expert site.)

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