Approximately 70 educators met at the invitation of the diocesan Office for Catechesis' Catholic Schools Office in the Cathedral atrium in Springfield Aug. 12 to learn more about equitable participation in federal education programs.
Catholic school principals, several members of the Illinois State Board of Education and some representatives of area public schools were on hand to listen to Maureen Dowling, director of the Office for Non-Public Education (ONPE) in the U.S. Department of Education. The ONPE is the liaison to the non-public school community for the U.S. Department of Education, including private, faith-based and home schools.
Dowling explained that since the initial passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in 1965, under the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson, private school students and teachers have been eligible to participate in certain federal education programs.
According to Dowling, ONPE represents the U.S. Department of Education to the non-public school community; offers advice and guidance on all matters affecting non-public education; communicates with national, state and local education agencies and associations on non-public education topics; communicates the interests and concerns of the non-public community to the Department of Education; provides parents with information regarding education options for their children; and provides technical assistance, workshops and publications.
Dowling spoke about how private school students and teachers can benefit under the ESEA and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). She also answered questions that principals may have had about specific situations.
"Our office was so excited to secure the services of Dr. Maureen Dowling for this workshop to share with our principals valuable information and advice on utilizing federal education programs," said Jean Johnson, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Springfield diocese. "The intent of these federal programs is to assist teachers and students to improve instruction and achievement.
"Knowing how to access services from these federal programs through the public districts in an equitable manner is of utmost importance to our schools," Johnson said. "Dr. Dowling is so knowledgeable, presents workshops all over the country on this topic, and is a wonderful network resource for us."
Johnson said she received nothing but favorable comments — both verbal and on the evaluation form — about Dowling's program. One principal noted that not only did Dowling give her "food for thought" but also helped her feel better equipped to consult with the local education agency (LEA) in her district to advocate for the children in her school.
Leaders of private schools should always keep in mind that their students can and should benefit from federal funding, Dowling said. She said that principals should never be intimidated by approaching the local education agencies for consultation services. "For example, the law says LEAs must consult with private school officials," she said.
Even busy principals should find the time to figure out what they need and do something about it. "I've been a private school official and I know you are swamped," Dowling said. She suggested finding someone — maybe a bright PTO parent who has time to help — to start looking into certain programs.
"Yes, there is federal education funding that's going to get down to the small private schools," she said. "You are not taking dollars from anyone. They are obligated by law to provide you with services."
To learn more about the Office for Non-Public Education (ONPE) visit the web site: http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oii/nonpublic/index.html.