Private School Participants in Programs under the No Child Left Behind Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: Private School and Public School District Perspectives (2007)


Public school districts are required to provide equitable services to eligible private school students through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as reauthorized by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) 2001, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), reauthorized 2004. Twelve major ESEA programs require public school districts to provide services and benefits to private school participants on an equitable basis. IDEA requires that public school districts conduct a child find process to locate students with disabilities enrolled by their parents in private schools, and to expend a proportionate amount of funding on special education and related services to such eligible children enrolled in private schools.

Both ESEA and IDEA also require that public school districts engage in timely and meaningful consultation with private schools about the provision of services to private school students and their teachers and parents. This consultation must occur before any decision is made that impacts the opportunities for participation of private school students, teachers, and parents and throughout the design, development, implementation, and assessment of those services. 1

This report describes participation of private school participants in federal education programs, the consultation process between private schools and public school districts, and public school district allocation of federal funds for services for private school participants. The results presented in this report are based on surveys conducted in 2005–06 among a nationally representative sample of public school districts with at least one private school located within their boundaries and a nationally representative sample of private schools located within the boundaries of the sample districts.



Overall, 44 percent of private schools had at least one participant in an ESEA program. However, there was not a single individual ESEA program (e.g. Title I, Part A) in which more than 20 percent of private schools had at least one participant. The two ESEA programs with the highest levels of participation were State Grants for Innovative Programs (20 percent) and Improving Teacher Quality State Grants (20 percent). Sixteen percent of private schools had participants in Improving Basic Programs Operated by Local Educational Agencies (Title I, Part A), the largest ESEA program.

Catholic schools were more likely to report having at least one participant in ESEA programs than were non-Catholic schools. Eighty percent of Catholic schools reported having a participant in at least one of the 11 ESEA programs covered in this study, compared with one-quarter of non-Catholic schools. More than one-third (37 percent) of Catholic schools reported having participants in Title I, Part A, compared with 7 percent of other religious private schools and 6 percent of nonsectarian schools.

The percentage of students participating in a particular ESEA program in a given private school varied substantially by the religious affiliation and size of the school. While nonsectarian schools were less likely than Catholic schools to have participants in ESEA programs, those that did have participants were likely to have a majority of their students participating in four out of the five programs in which private schools most often reported having participants. Among private schools with at least one participant in ESEA programs, the smaller schools (those with fewer than 100 students) tended to have a higher fraction of students participating in most of the ESEA programs.

The most common reason given by private schools for not having participants in ESEA programs was a conscious decision not to be involved in federal programs (58 percent). Forty percent of private schools with no ESEA participants reported having no knowledge of federal education programs under ESEA. However, 14 percent of the private schools that reported no knowledge of ESEA programs (6 percent of private schools with no ESEA participants) also reported that they consciously chose not to participate.

IDEA had the highest percentage of private schools with participants of any federal education program. Forty-three percent of private schools had at least one participant in IDEA.

Provision of Services

Private schools reported that the most common services provided through ESEA programs were professional development for private school teachers and the provision of equipment and materials. Forty-five percent of public school districts offered Title I, Part A, services to private school participants, with the majority indicating that a public school district employee provided these program services at the private school site.

For IDEA, the most common services that public school districts provided were speech and language therapy (92 percent) and special education instruction (78 percent).


Public school districts and private schools with participants in a particular program generally reported similar levels of consultation about that ESEA program.

Limited communication from the public school district was the most common reason private schools gave for the absence of timely and meaningful consultation. Seven percent of public school districts identified poor coordination within the public school district office as a barrier to timely and meaningful consultation.

For IDEA, 38 percent of private schools reported that the public school district engaged in timely and meaningful consultation with private school officials, representatives, or parents regarding participation in IDEA, while 86 percent of public school districts reported conducting such consultations with appropriate parties. One possible explanation is that public school districts are required to consult with some, but not all, private schools located within their boundaries. Additionally, public school districts may consult with an organization like a diocese on behalf of a group of private schools.

This report is available online at

  1. ESEA, Section 9501(c)(3), Section 1120, (b)(2) and IDEA Section 612(a)(10)(A)(iii).

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Last Modified: 11/18/2009