How might districts use funds available under ESSA?
With bipartisan agreement, spending under the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants part of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) will grow this coming school year. Congress has allotted $1.1 billion, up from $400 million. The money sent to schools can be used for a wide range of programs to make students safer and healthier, to make learning more well-rounded, or to enhance the role of technology in learning, according to Education Week.
In the past, the money was given to the states, which had the option of distributing it to individual schools by competition. However, this coming school year the states will divvy it up based on a formula. Some districts may get more; some may stay the same. But more districts will now get more money of the grant funds compared to last year; all will get at least $10,000. Schools may also combine the money with other districts for joint programs.
With the rules being so broad, it is hard to predict how the money will be used. While STEM programs will likely be on the list, it's certain that school safety will also be a priority. This may include Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, as well as directing funds to develop safe and supportive learning environments.
According to Education Week, school choice is one area where districts don't seem to be using ESSA funds. Some say that’s partially because of a lack of imagination or risk aversion, as some states are receiving pushback for their plans for school choice. Some states, such as Arizona, are even finding themselves in a court battle for their plans to implement school choice.
ESSA can also be used for assessment changes, as districts now have greater flexibility in how to test students. One example is switching to the ACT or the SAT as a high school test. States have been slow to use the money for this purpose, even though the law gave up to seven states (or groups of states) an opportunity to implement innovative assessment programs. So far, only two states (and Puerto Rico) have taken advantage of that provision.
Schools are also having a hard time with the new financial transparency requirements of ESSA. Districts now have to break out school-level funding, as well as usage. This can put a strain on district administrators, financial personnel and state lawmakers, because it may shine a light on disparities in funding between schools within a district. This might cause perceived civil rights issues, among other concerns.
- Education Week What's in ESSA's big flexible spending pot