Every Student Succeeds unleashes school funding flexibility

States and districts can direct block grants to where they are most needed

The 2015 passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) reverses the trend of federal authority over K12 education. The new law returns state and local authority to levels that have not been seen in decades.

One of biggest changes is that ESSA increases fund transferability for key federal programs. Under NCLB, state and local education agencies could transfer up to half of a program’s allocations to other programs, including Title I/Part A and Title II/Part A.

However, the law prohibited the transfer of funds out of Title I, leaving Title II/Part A as the only program that could actually “share” money.

ESSA dramatically changes the stakes, allowing all funding to be transferred among a greater number of programs. At the state level, the programs include Title II, the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant (Title IV, Part A), and 21st Century Community Learning Centers.

At the local level, the list includes the transfer of funds to (but not from) Title I/Part A, migrant education, neglected and delinquent, ELL state grants, and rural ed.

The ability to transfer funds lets decision-makers direct more funding to programs that meet the unique needs of a community or state. A district with an unexpected increase in migrant students, for example, could transfer funds to migrant education from another program.

Interventions for struggling schools

ESSA also offers more flexibility in how states design and fund interventions for low-performing schools. Under NCLB, districts with such schools were required to select one of several federally prescribed intervention models to receive School Improvement Grant (SIG) funds.

ESSA does not mandate intervention models—it allows state and local leaders to implement interventions as they see fit.

Block grants

One of the most buzzed-about changes is the consolidation of 49 programs under Title IV into a new block grant, the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant program.

Allocations will be based on the Title I distribution formula. Districts that receive $30,000 or more must use the funds for the following:

offering a well-rounded education (at least 20 percent of funds), such as STEM, AP, IB and arts programs

healthy students (at least 20 percent of funds), including drug abuse prevention and anti-bullying programs

technology (up to 60 percent, but with no more than 15 percent spent on technology infrastructure)

Within these parameters, states and districts will have considerable flexibility in spending these block grants to best meet local needs.

Shifts in funding for Title II, Part A

Under ESSA, Title II/Part A funds (which support preparing, training and recruiting teachers and principals) have been renamed Supporting Effective Instruction.

A new ESSA-authorized formula will shift the amount of Title II funding in some states. The formula will gradually shift allocations from higher-population communities to higher-poverty ones.

At the end of a four-year phase-in of the new formula, 80 percent of funds will go to higher-poverty districts and 20 percent will go to higher-population districts. The shift will mean some states will see an increase in Title II funds over the next five years, while others will see a sizable drop.

For example, according to estimates by the Congressional Research Service, New York Title II funds will decline—from $188 million (FY2016) to $127 million (FY2023)—while funding in North Carolina will go from $49.7 million (FY2016) to $73.1 million (FY2023).

Engage state leaders now

Though the final regulations process is still underway for many components of ESSA, the shift from federal to state and local flexibility is certain.

Now is the time to connect with state leaders to understand how local needs can be adequately funded and supported under the new ESSA era.

Armed with clearly defined priorities, districts will have an opportunity to use funds to address the unique needs of their school communities and students.

Paula Love, the “Funding Doctor” brings decades of experience to developing grant strategies for state and local educational agencies, schools and institutions.

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