Federal File

February 11, 2004 1 min read

Reporting Student Prayer

State officials in Michigan believe they’ve come up with a relatively painless way to comply with a federal reporting requirement on student prayer in schools.

To qualify for funding under the 2-year-old No Child Left Behind Act, school districts must certify in writing that they are not infringing students’ rights to pray in school. Then the states each have to supply the federal Department of Education with a certification that their districts are in compliance by Nov. 1 of each year.

For the first year of the mandate, the Michigan education department had local officials fill out the needed paperwork and send it in to the state. But this go-round, districts took the pledge online through a new feature of the state’s Internet-based grants- management system. School districts apply for federal dollars by tapping in to the Michigan Electronic Grants System, or MEGS.

Thanks to the new feature, district officials can simply click on a link from their own dedicated Web pages on the system to certify they are in compliance with the federal Department of Education’s guidelines on constitutionally protected prayer in public schools. (“Critics Say Agency ‘Pushing the Envelope’ With School Prayer Guide,” Feb. 19, 2003.)

If a district hasn’t submitted its certification, the Michigan system blocks it from applying for grants.

“We had 100 percent participation,” Mary Ann Chartrand, the Michigan department’s supervisor for grants administration, said of last year’s certification process. One reason, she said, was that state officials could easily keep track online of which districts hadn’t filed and then remind them to do so.

Among those hoping that Michigan’s approach will catch on is Scott Jenkins, the director of “e- government solutions” for Agate Software Inc. the Lansing, Mich.-based company that helped the state devise the school-prayer reporting process.

Mr. Jenkins, who worked in the federal Education Department from April 2002 until last August, said he recalls hearing complaints from state schools chiefs that complying with the prayer mandate would be cumbersome and costly. In his view, Michigan’s new system, which cost $5,000, belies that prediction.

“Things that look like a paper shuffle at the state level can be done fairly easily with Web-based technology,” he said.

—Caroline Hendrie