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U.S. Department of Education Finds ESEA Restriction on Religious Organizations Unconstitutional, Will No Longer Enforce

On March 11, 2019, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced at the Council for American Private Education (CAPE) State Directors Annual Meeting that the Department will no longer enforce a restriction barring religious organizations from serving as contract providers of equitable services solely due to their religious affiliation.

The U.S. Department of Education, in consultation with the U.S. Department of Justice, determined the statutory provisions in Section 1117(d)(2)(B) and 8501(d)(2)(B) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that require an equitable services provider to “be independent of … any religious organization” are unconstitutional because they categorically exclude religious organizations based solely on their religious identity.

These provisions run counter to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, 137 S. Ct. 2012 (2017) that, under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, otherwise eligible recipients cannot be disqualified from a public benefit solely because of their religious character.

Given this decision, the Department will no longer enforce these provisions that previously restricted school districts from contracting with religious organizations to provide equitable services on the same basis as any other organization.

“The Trinity Lutheran decision reaffirmed the long-understood intent of the First Amendment to not restrict the free exercise of religion,” said Secretary DeVos. “Those seeking to provide high-quality educational services to students and teachers should not be discriminated against simply based on the religious character of their organization.”

The Department will continue to enforce all other applicable provisions of federal law. In particular, under ESEA Sections 1117(a)(2) and 8501(a)(2), school districts must continue to ensure that any contractor is independent of the private school for which it is providing services and that the educational services and other benefits being provided by the contractor are “secular, neutral and non-ideological.”

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Education Freedom Scholarships

On February 28, 2019, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, along with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL), unveiled Education Freedom Scholarships (EFS), the Trump Administration’s key proposal to expand and improve the education options available to students across the country. The policy will make a historic investment in America’s students, injecting up to $5 billion yearly into locally controlled scholarship programs that empower students to choose the learning environment and style that best meets their unique needs. The policy would not rely on any funds currently allocated to public education, nor would it create a new federal education program. Participation would be voluntary for students, schools, and states.

“I believe every student in America deserves the opportunity to pursue the education that best meets his or her needs,” said Secretary DeVos. “No student should feel stuck in a school that just isn’t working for them, or feel hopeless because they live on the ‘wrong’ side of town. Education Freedom Scholarships will finally give students the opportunity to learn in places and grow in ways that have too often been denied to them. This historic investment in students honors the fact that each one of them is unique and deserves an education that’s personalized for them, unleashes their creativity, and unlocks their potential.”

For more information on EFS, please visit

2019 Summer/Fall Internship Announcement

Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives

The Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives

The Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives (CFOI) works to promote student driven education through engagement with faith and community organizations. We invite undergraduate and graduate students to apply for our unpaid Summer/Fall 2019 internship in Washington, DC. The CFOI offers full-time and part-time internships.

Interns should expect to assist the CFOI team on a variety of projects including outreach, communication, social media, and research. We value strong writing skills, adaptability and growth mindset.

To submit your resume/writing sample please email

1st Annual Faith Leader Summit

K-12 Policy Panel at the Faith Leader Summit on November 9, 2018: from left to right: Moderator, Dr. Andrea Ramirez, Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives, Panelists: Ken Marcus, Assistant Secretary, Office for Civil Rights; Aimee Viana, Executive Director, White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics; Scott Stump, Assistant Secretary, Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education; Holly Ham, Executive Director, White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders; and Christopher Rinkus, Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education

The Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives hosted the Department’s first Faith Leader Summit on November 9, 2018. The Summit afforded leaders of faith-based organizations to hear from Senior Leadership about the Administration’s goals and objectives for the Department, multiple education options to help promote the success of every student, and how faith leaders can be actively involved at a local level. Panels and breakout sessions covered updates regarding School Safety, K-12 Policy, ESSA Implementation, Career, Technical, Adult Education and Apprenticeship Opportunities, and Higher Education.

Honoring MLK Jr.’s Drum Major Legacy: Innovative Pathways to Success

2018 Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Major Innovation Service Award

The Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans hosted the Martin Luther King Jr.’s Drum Major Legacy program to honor members of communities across the nation who have upheld Dr. King’s legacy innovatively through their extraordinary every day acts of service towards youth and education. Nineteen awardees including educators and community members received the 2018 Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Major Innovation Service Award at a special ceremony at the U.S. Department of Education headquarters in Washington, DC on April 3, 2018, the day before the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination in Memphis, Tennessee.

While honoring the legacy of Dr. King, Secretary DeVos offered many thanks and congratulations to the award recipients for their contributions to youth and their communities

Congratulations to the following awardees:

Angel H. Malone, Principal, Orangeburg, SC
Angelique Maury, Director, Baring House Crisis Nursery Program at Youth Service Inc.
Asma Hanif, Community leader, Baltimore, MD
Bishop Larry Camel, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Saginaw, MI
Dr. Jim Rollins, Superintendent, Springdale School District, Springdale, AR
Dr. Marche Fleming-Randle, Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement, Wichita State University
Dr. Nicole Steele, Founder and Executive Director of Diamond in the Rough
Dr. Noor Fatima, Professor at International Islamic University,
DuShun Levelle Scarbrough, Sr., Executive Director, Arkansas Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission
Emily Lincoln, Sophomore and Community Leader
Karen Bell, Retired Army Veteran
Lady Shirley Camel, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Saginaw, MI
Lynne Gassant, Founder of Scholar Career Coaching
Oscar Hawkins, Kids First Awareness 21st Century Community Learning Center
Cindy Hawkins, Kids First Awareness 21st Century Community Learning Center
Rev. Jesse C. Turner, National Alliance of Faith and Justice (NAFJ) of the PEN or PENCIL (POP) Initiative