Since 1965 students, teachers and other private and religious school personnel have the statutory right to participate in several K-12 education programs authorized by the federal government. Participation in these programs does not provide direct aid to the schools. Program funds are distributed to the state and/or local educational agencies (LEA - public school districts) that provide eligible services to private and religious school students and teachers. Opportunities to participate in federal programs are provided through various acts of Congress described on this site.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was passed initially by Congress in 1965 to authorize programs to benefit educationally needy elementary and secondary students living in areas with high concentrations of children from low-income families. With each reauthorization, it is renamed. Currently it is known as the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015.
The law established two very important principles for providing services to students in public, private and religious schools:
- Child Benefit: special types of assistance or services are provided primarily for students and their teachers and parents and only incidentally for the school they attended.
- Public Trusteeship: Aid is channeled through public authorities (state and local educational agencies) who receive the ESEA funds and act as trustees on behalf of all the eligible children in their community, regardless of the type of school they attended.
Participation of Private School Students in Federal Education Programs
Under ESEA programs, services are provided to students and teachers—no money is channeled to the schools. Consequently, Catholic school students and personnel are legally permitted to participate in ESEA programs without compromising First Amendment issues regarding separation of church and state.
To ensure that private school students, teachers, and other personnel have every opportunity to participate in federal education programs for which they are eligible, private school officials should contact their local public school district (LEA) and establish a positive, productive working relationship with the LEA federal programs coordinator.
Available Federal Programs
Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)
Special Education/Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
Accessing Federal Programs Documents
Nutrition and Safety Programs
E-Rate Technology Programs
Additional Programs and Resources