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Calif. Plan Shifts State Duties to Private-School Group

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Private-school advocates in California would assume the duties of the state education department's defunct private-school office, under a plan scheduled to be considered by the state board of education next week.

The innovative proposal, which has received the approval of a key advisory committee and the backing of education department officials, would enable the deficit-plagued state to improve services to private schools without spending its own money.

Moreover, its supporters say, the plan would also improve California's compliance with the regulations of Chapter 2 of the Hawkins-Stafford Elementary and Secondary Education Amendments, which call for "equitable participation'' by private schools in the block-grant program.

"If we didn't have something like this, we wouldn't be complying with Chapter 2,'' said David Eisenman, the private-school representative on the Governor's Elementary and Secondary Education Act Chapter 2 Advisory Committee, which endorsed the proposal in February.

Under a one-year, $24,064 grant as a Chapter 2 "priority project,'' the California Association of Private School Organizations would set up the California Private School State Information Dissemination Project. The project would supply the state's 3,600 private elementary and secondary schools with "consistent and timely'' information about federal, state, and local education programs and requirements, according to the proposal.

The federal grant for the project--which would also depend on support from the in-kind participation of private-school groups--would be about one-fifth of the annual budget of the defunct private-school office, officials said.

'There Was a Void'

The idea for the project originated in 1989 with CAPSO board members, who wanted private schools to take full advantage of Chapter 2 after its 1988 reauthorization strengthened the call for their participation, said Wayne K. Miyamoto, an education and management consultant who would be the project's coordinator under contract with CAPSO.

But the proposal took on greater urgency after the state's Office of Private Schools K-12 was closed due to budget cuts in November 1990 and its activities divided among other education offices, officials said.

Jeffrey J. Zettel, Chapter 2 coordinator for the state education department, said private-school services have not suffered since the office's closure. Even so, he added, information is "fragmented'' and private-school contacts at the department do not have the same "visibility'' as the old office.

"We really felt there was a void,'' said Charles Rowins, the head of the St. James School in Los Angeles and the president of CAPSO.

"It just didn't make sense not to have all these kids and parents and schools represented,'' Mr. Rowins observed.

Using Existing Links

One advantage of having CAPSO run the project, Mr. Miyamoto said, is that it would use many of the communications links, including electronic computer mail, that already exist within CAPSO's 12 member organizations.

As a result, he contended, the project would be able to do what the state's private-school office could not do well even when it existed--let private schools know quickly and efficiently about Chapter 2 programs at the state and local levels, such as a staff-development program in a nearby school district.

Staff development is one area "that at least right now the private schools have a tremendous need for,'' Mr. Miyamoto explained. "Much of it coincides with what public schools need and are already providing.''

But, he said, "Unless the information goes by the right people, the private schools aren't able to respond even if they want to.''

Offers of participation to individual Roman Catholic schools, for example, must go through the local diocese or archdiocese, Mr. Miyamoto said. "Little quirks like that drive the public agencies crazy,'' he noted.

The Sacramento-based project, to be staffed part time by Mr. Miyamoto and a clerical worker, would produce regular mailings and quarterly bulletins covering issues and policies of interest to private schools. It also would respond to phone inquiries about private schools and the requirements that govern them.

The CAPSO project would serve as a kind of "demonstration'' to the state about how to distribute information, encourage participation, and assess needs, said Mr. Miyamoto.

After one or two years, state and local education agencies could absorb the project's functions--at a cost that would still be far below what the state had been spending on its private-school office, Mr. Miyamoto predicted.

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