.- President George Bush and the Secretary of Education have encouraged Catholic schools and their leaders to consider being providers of supplemental educational services under the No Child Left Behind Act. The U.S. Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings, made this remark at the Congressional Advocacy Days conference of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Feb. 28. This statement is the first of its kind in terms of state-religious co-operation in the United States.
"Thousands of students in your communities could benefit from the knowledge and skills of your teachers,” Spellings told conference attendees. “And you can do it in a program that protects your religious freedom because the Department has issued a faith-based regulation with strong language to protect religious organizations providing supplemental services."
Spellings praised the contribution Catholic schools have made to educating students across the nation. She is the first U.S. Secretary of Education to have a child currently attending a Catholic school.
The law's Supplemental Educational Services (SES) provision gives parents of eligible low-income children the opportunity and federal funding to choose a private tutor or other academic support outside of the regular school day to help their child succeed in school.
Providers of supplemental educational services include non-profit and for-profit entities, local education agencies, public schools, public charter schools, private schools, public or private institutions of higher education, and faith-based organizations. In the program's first year alone, more 100,000 low-income students across the country benefited from these tutoring services.
Secretary Spellings also noted the president's desire to provide educational choices to more parents, especially when their public schools "fall short of their responsibilities."
"That's why the president's new budget includes $50 million for a new Choice Incentive Fund, which would help states and districts develop school choice programs,” she said.
The Washington, D.C., Opportunity Scholarship Program, now in its first year, has made school choice a reality for more than 1,000 D.C. students. About 600 of those students chose to enroll in Catholic schools, and more than half of the 53 private schools participating this year are Catholic.
The Department of Education intends to continue working with Catholic school leaders. Spelling announced her intention to host a larger meeting with private school leaders from across the country.