Creating the Education Department

Private Schools Were Wary, 25 Years Ago, of a New Federal Agency

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints

To the Editor:

I read with great interest and remembrance Christopher T. Cross’ Commentary on the creation of the federal Department of Education ("The U.S. Department of Education at 25: A History Remembered," Oct. 20, 2004). As he correctly pointed out, the U.S. Catholic Conference was against the establishment of the department. In fact, most of private education was against a bill that could seemingly further relegate private education to the bowels of an enlarged educational bureaucracy.

The Education Amendments of 1978 had established, however, an office of nonpublic education, known as ONPE. This small line staff of five was headed by an assistant commissioner, Edward R. D’Alessio, who formerly had been the head of government relations for the Catholic Conference.

On Sept. 24, 1979, with the final vote very much in doubt, Mr. D’Alessio was called by the White House and asked to lobby for the establishment of the department with seven congressmen who were slated to vote against the bill. With days left before the vote, experienced Hill-watchers were calling it a one- or two-“nay”-vote difference. For Mr. D’Alessio, the call posed a dilemma. His constituency, private school interests, was against the bill. His employer, the president, was for it. Mr. D’Alessio decided to lobby. He met with the seven congressmen, five of whom eventually did vote no. Two others, Rep. Frank Guarini, D-N.J., and James Scheuer, D-N.Y., called the president following the D’Alessio meeting and asked to meet with him at breakfast the following day, Sept. 26.

That afternoon, ONPE received by special messenger a copy of a letter from Rep. Guarini to President Carter. The letter read in part:

“I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to review with you at breakfast my concerns about the Department of Education Organization Act. ... I am pleased to have your recognition of the importance of our private schools by implementing legislation that would create an Assistant Secretary for and an Office of Private Education in the Department of Education.”

Later that day, a copy of the presidential response to Rep. Guarini arrived at ONPE. It read in part, “You have my personal commitment that this office will be continued at the highest level, headed by an assistant secretary. These goals will be met during the implementation of this reorganization.”

When the final vote was taken, Reps. Guarini and Scheuer voted in favor of the bill. Within two weeks, the White House Office of Management and Budget issued a revised organizational chart that included an assistant secretary for nonpublic education and an office of nonpublic education—both were discretionary establishments.

During the Reagan years, the line function of ONPE was terminated. It once again became a staff office.

Regan Kenyon
Princeton, N.J.

The writer is the president of the Secondary School Admission Test Board. In 1978, while serving as a national fellow at the Institute for Educational Leadership in Washington, he was the first official appointed to the federal office of nonpublic education.

Vol. 24, Issue 11, Page 37

Published in Print: November 10, 2004, as Creating the Education Department

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories





Sponsor Insights

Stop cobbling together your EdTech

Integrate Science and ELA with Informational Text

To Address Chronic Absenteeism, Dig into the Data

Can self-efficacy impact growth for ELLs?

Disruptive Tech Integration for Meaningful Learning

5 Game-Changers in Today’s Digital Learning Platforms

Keep Your Schools Safe and Responsive to Real Challenges

Hiding in Plain Sight - 7 Common Signs of Dyslexia in the Classroom

The research: Reading Benchmark Assessments

Shifting Mindsets: A Guide for Training Paraeducators to Think Differently About Challenging Behavior

All Students Are Language Learners: The Imagine Learning Language Advantage™

Shifting Mindsets: A Guide for Training Paraeducators to Think Differently About Challenging Behavior

How to Support All Students with Equitable Pathways

2019 K-12 Digital Content Report

3-D Learning & Assessment for K–5 Science

Climate Change, LGBTQ Issues, Politics & Race: Instructional Materials for Teaching Complex Topics

Closing the Science Achievement Gap

Evidence-based Coaching: Key Driver(s) of Scalable Improvement District-Wide

Advancing Literacy with Large Print

Research Sheds New Light on the Reading Brain

3 Unique Learner Profiles for Emerging Bilinguals

Effective Questioning Practices to Spur Thinking

Empower Reading Teachers with Proven Literacy PD

Student Engagement Lessons from 3 Successful Districts

Response to Intervention Centered on Student Learning

The Nonnegotiable Attributes of Effective Feedback

SEE MORE Insights >