Fall is just around the corner, and September 18th marks the final due date for States to submit plans to the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) according to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). As with the former law, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), ESSA retains mandatory annual Statewide English and math assessments for grades 3-8 and once during high school as well as 95% student test participation requirements. State and Local Educational Agencies (SEAs and LEAs) must continue to collect report data to the Federal government. However, the new law goes beyond measuring school performance based on high-stakes State test scores. Instead, ESSA factors multiple academic and non-academic indicators of school performance such as post-secondary readiness and school quality--well-rounded educational opportunities, safe and healthy schools--and more. In addition, ESSA provides states with more control over its accountability system such as setting long-term goals for student achievement, multiple measures of school performance, methods of identifying low-performing schools and subgroups of students, and school improvement strategies. ESSA provides flexible funding streams through consolidated grant programs, yet the law also incorporates the concept of “evidence-based” into the legislation as a way of validating that the activities effectively improve educational outcomes and close achievement gaps. After all, the goal of ESSA, a civil rights law, is to ensure that all students have access to an equitable and excellent education.
ESSA Definition: evidence-based – the rationale for an activity, strategy, or intervention that is based on high-quality research findings or positive evaluation that demonstrates that the activity, strategy or intervention system is likely to improve student outcomes or other relevant outcomes such as school conditions. (Section 8101(21) (A))
State Plan Submissions Receive Federal Feedback
A total of 16 States and the District of Columbia submitted their completed State plans to the USDE for review by the first due date of April 3rd, revealing diverse systems with variance in long-term goals, accountability measures and other elements of State plans. The USDE, by law, has 120 days to approve of the plan or reply with remarks for improvement. As of June 30th, Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, and Tennessee have received letters from the USDE, and more letters are on the way.
A team of experts review each State plan, yet the U.S. Secretary of Education has the ultimate say in whether the State plan is in compliance with the law. Although ESSA gives States more leeway in constructing their accountability systems, SEAs must fulfill requirements in the law and follow the Consolidated State Plan Template and Crosswalk issued by the USDE.
Uncertainty has been circulating as to how the law would be interpreted and the type of feedback that the States would receive from the Secretary’s office. Thus, this first round of Federal feedback gives the remainder of the States an idea as to how the Administration critiques the plans.
When the current Administration took office in January 2017, States were already drafting their plans, but changes ensued such as a revised template for State plans and proposal to alter ESSA’s program funding levels. The significantly reduced amount of information required by the Consolidated State Plan Template led some to assume that State plan approval would be a given. On the other hand, the Education Secretary’s active promotion of State and local authority in K-12 education led others to worry that the USDE would not give State plans a thorough look. However, as States continue to receive feedback letters from the USDE, the results have been met with some surprise. Not all State plans have received a thumbs-up from the USDE. Certain States have received notice to fix portions of their plan or to provide more information; States have 15 days to resolve the issues.
Consistent feedback from the Federal government is crucial to moving forward with transition to ESSA. Some sources have cast Federal feedback as a point of controversy saying that critiques on aspects of one State plan over another appear to be inconsistent or to demonstrate overreach. For instance, the use of Advanced Placement (AP) exams to measure college readiness has been approved for some States but not another. One State received feedback that long-term goals for student achievement were not “ambitious” enough. States have since made changes and provided clearer justification for such measures. On the upside, other sources have remarked that the Letters from the USDE indicate that the review team is taking a thorough look at the content in each plan. One thing is certain: this first round of Federal feedback offers a key takeaway for States slated for the September submission, namely, clarity and comprehensiveness are essential to get a green light from the Federal government on the State plan.
ESSA Limits on Federal Control
ESSA strikes the balance between State control and Federal requirements by restricting the Federal government from interfering with State authority over K-12 education in explicitly stated “Prohibitions.”
Read the full bill here.
Legal Restrictions in Brief:
By law, the Federal government is prohibited from mandating or incentivizing a State to adopt a set of academic standards, assessments aligned with such standards, or requiring a State to submit standards for review and approval. Moreover, the Federal government is prohibited from interfering by way of endorsing or mandating that a State, district or school adopt instructional programming, content, curriculum or assessments, or by incentivizing its adoption through grant, contract, cooperative agreement, allocation of State or local resources, or approval of a waiver.
Furthermore, ESSA prohibits the Secretary of Education from interfering with or prescribing elements in State accountability systems including:
- Goals that States set for all students or any student subgroup
- State, district or school assessments
- Academic and non-academic indicators and the weight of such indicators
- Requirements to measure student growth
- How states identify schools for improvement
- School improvement strategies used by States or local school districts
- The minimum number of students in a subgroup
- Aspects of teacher and principal evaluation systems
- Any non-regulatory guidance that provides directions on how to implement accountability systems or that appears to be legally binding
- Collecting data beyond Federal, State and local requirements
- State accountability regulations that are additional to, inconsistent with, or outside the scope of authority of the Secretary
Under ESSA, States receive more autonomy and control over goal-setting, accountability systems and improvement strategies, but the new law also hold States responsible for meeting long-term goals, benchmarks, improving educational outcomes and closing the achievement gap through State and local report cards; public-facing data dashboards that provide transparency and accountability on school performance and per-pupil spending. Read more about data-driven aspects of ESSA: Federal Policy & Educational Data.
ESSA Transition in the 2017-2018 School Year
During the 2016-2017 school year, many States were still operating under NCLB programs and funding, but NCLB programs and funds have since expired. Most States have yet to submit their plans to the USDE by the September due date, so the majority of States will not have Federally-approved plans prior to the start of the 2017-2018 school year.
What does this mean as far as implementing ESSA and its programs?
The 2017-2018 school year was dubbed the year of “full implementation,” but the upcoming academic period serves more as a year of transition into ESSA. Some components of ESSA will take effect this school year while major aspects of the law—accountability requirements, school improvement strategies and data reporting—will not reach full implementation until the 2018-2019 school year.
The USDE anticipated delay in ESSA’s implementation back in January 2017 when it issued a Dear Colleague Letter in response to requests from States, stakeholders and members of Congress to delay identification of low-performing schools and student subgroups for support and improvement according to new methodologies until the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year. Then, in April of 2017, the USDE sent a follow-up Dear Colleague Letter to offer more guidance “to ensure an orderly transition to the ESEA, as amended by the ESSA” (USDE, 2017).
How does ESSA implementation timelines impact funding?
In a Memorandum to Chief of State School Officers, Erica Navarro, Director of Budget Services, explains that most grant programs funded by the USDE are “forward-funded,” which means that “funds are typically appropriated in advance of the upcoming school year and are obligated on July 1 (and in some programs, on October 1 as well) of the fiscal year” (USDE, 2017). This means that Department formula grant programs for the current 2016-2017 school year were funded by the FY2016 Appropriations Act. As for the 2017-2018 school year, formula grant programs under ESSA are funded by FY2017 appropriations, and the budget for FY2018 will affect district spending in the 2018-2019 school year.
The USDE decided that State Educational Agencies (SEAS) do not need to submit State plans in order to receive FY2017 funds—as long as the SEA submits the assurances in ESSA Section 8304 in accordance with submission procedures in 34 C.F.R. 299.13(d)(1). Timely submission of assurances allow SEAs to distribute funds to LEAs even before the Consolidated State plan is approved by the USDE. States that have yet to submit State plans, such as California and New York, have already outlined procedures for LEAs to transition in to ESSA, published instructions for LEAs to submit applications for State funds, and any incoming guidance from the USDE.
ESSA Fiscal Updates
In early May, Congress avoided a government shutdown by narrow margins and worked over the weekend to produce the Omnibus Bill which set new funding levels for ESSA programs in FY2017. Appropriations for FY2017 will to continue through September 30, 2017.
How does the FY2017 budget compare with FY2016? The total K-12 budget for FY2017 reduced to $71.6 billion when compared with FY2016; a difference of $60 million. Funding levels in ESSA’s various grant programs either increased or decreased in comparison with the previous fiscal year. Moreover, the FY2018 budget request released by the President in late May indicates that more fiscal changes are on the horizon, yet the budget proposal still has to go through the House and Senate—more on FY2018 later.
Below is a comparison of funding levels for major ESSA grant programs inclusive of FY2016 amounts, funds authorized in ESSA for FY2017, the resulting FY2017 appropriations and FY2018 proposed funding levels. The cross-comparison of funding levels in the charts for each of programs below illustrate the changes that have taken place since the passing of the new law and the changes that are to be negotiated.
Title I: Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged
Purpose: “The purpose of this [TITLE I] is to provide all children significant opportunity to receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education, and to close educational achievement gaps.’’ (SEC. 1001. Title I Statement of Purpose, the Every Student Succeeds Act)
Title I drives State plans and consists of four Parts as shown:
- Part A: LEA Grant
- Part B: State Assessments
- Part C: Migratory Children
- Part D: Neglected and Delinquent Children
- Part E: Federal Activities
Part A: Improving Basic Programs Operated by Local Educational Agencies is the largest funding program in Title I which provides financial assistance to schools and school districts with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families. Provisions help to ensure that all students meet challenging academic standards required in and by State accountability plans. States, local school districts, and schools to use limited resources to improve student outcomes.
Appropriations for FY2017 resulted in a $447 million increase from the level authorized in ESSA; a total of $15.5 billion dollars including $450 million from the consolidation of the NCLB School Improvement Grants (SIG) program.
This increase will help states implement ESSA programs in the 2017-2018 school year. ESSA allows up to 7% of Title I funding to be set aside for this purpose. Another piece of guidance that the USDE offers to “ensure orderly transition” to ESSA is to the States that do not distribute all of the school improvement funds for FY2017 to schools on the “needs improvement” list in the 2017-2018. The USDE advises that these States carry over the remainder of FY2017 school improvement funds to the 2018-2019 school year when full ESSA implementation is expected: when the State has an approved plan, newly identified schools, and has implemented its revised methodology and comprehensive and targeted support and improvement strategies.
The chart below shows the changes in funding levels in Title I-A for FY2016-FY2018 inclusive of the amounts originally authorized in ESSA.
|Title I Part A: Improving Basic Programs Operated by Local Educational Agencies Comparison of Funding Levels|
|FY2016 Appropriation: $14,909,802,000|
|FY2017 Authorized: $15,012,317,605||FY2017 Appropriations: $15.5 billion(+ $447 million)|
|FY2018 Authorized: $15,457,459,000||FY2018 Budget Proposal: $15.8 billion|
Title II: Preparing, Training, and Recruiting High-Quality Teachers, Principals, or Other School Leaders
This Federal program supports more than professional development. Funds serve to recruit, retain and train high quality teachers and school leaders. As states develop their plans, they set aside 3% of these funds for professional development of school leaders. Funds from Title II Part A Supporting Effective Instruction can be used to help teachers and school and district leaders to improve their practice and effectively integrate educational technology in ways that improve school safety and protect student data privacy.
propriations for FY2017 saw $294 million decrease for the upcoming school year and a proposed elimination of the program for FY2018.
Refer excerpts from the President’s proposal at the end of this article to see the rational for eliminating Title II: Budget Proposal: Fiscal Year 2018.
The chart below shows the budget changes for Title II-A from FY2016-FY2018 inclusive of the amounts originally authorized in ESSA for each fiscal year.
|Title II Part A: Supporting Effective InstructionComparison of Funding Levels|
|FY2016 Appropriations: $2,349,830,000(Compared with NCLB Teacher Quality State Grants)|
|FY2017 Authorization: $2.295 billion||FY2017 Appropriations: $2,055,830(-$294 million)|
|FY2018 Authorization: $2.295 billion||FY2018 Proposed Budget: $0|
Title IV – 21st Century Schools
Title IV Part A – Student Supports & Academic Enrichment Grants
Title IV consolidated nearly 50 NCLB grant programs to create a large block grant that funds everything from educational technology, computer science, social-emotional learning, the arts, music, STEM programs, Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs and more. The new spending bill has instituted significant changes. First of all, Title IV-A funding levels have been altered. The grant programs in operation during the 2016-2017 school year—still the NCLB grants—were at a funding level that was $122 million less than the FY2017 appropriations for the new Title IV-A block grant program. Nevertheless, FY2017 appropriations for Title IV-A saw a dramatic reduction from the amount that was originally authorized in ESSA; a cut of $1.6 billion. Secondly, since funding for this program is low, the new spending bill allows States to award Title IV-A funds on a competitive grant basis rather than by formula. If a State chooses to distribute the grants on a competitive basis, the State must ensure that 20% goes to well-rounded education, 20% goes to safe and healthy students, and while 60% of the remaining funds can go toward any or all three categories including up to 25% of funds for educational technology (but only 15% may be spent on educational technology if funds are distributed by formula). Districts can apply to one or all three categories under Title IV-A, yet a needs assessment is required to submit to the State with priority given to districts showing higher need. The FY2018 proposal has eliminated this large block grant program.
See also Title IV: 21st Century Schools
Below are the changes in funding levels for Title IV-A.
|Title IV Part A – Student Supports & Academic Enrichment GrantsComparison of Funding Levels|
|FY2016 Appropriations: N/A (Approx.)||Budget Changes|
|FY2017 Authorization in ESSA: $1.65 billion||FY2017 Appropriations: $400 million(-$1.6 billion)|
|FY2018 Authorization in ESSA: $1.6 billion||FY2018 Proposed Budget: $0|
Title IV Part B: 21st Century Community Learning Centers
Title IV-B, 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CLC), is a Federal funding source that supports summer learning programs, extended day programs and tutoring. The program also funds additional services designed to support regular academic programs such as youth development, service learning, drug and violence prevention, counseling programs and more. According to __ approximately 22 million youth are eligible to attend CLC, but only 1.6 million participate. Only 1 in3 grants are awarded due to lack of funds.
The FY2017 appropriation raise funds in Title IV-B to $1.2 billion; a $25 million increase (2% increase in the program). However, the FY2018 proposed budget eliminates this program. Refer excerpts from the President’s proposal at the end of this article to see the rational for eliminating Title IV: Budget Proposal: Fiscal Year 2018
See also Title IV: 21st Century Schools
Below are the changes in funding levels for Title IV-B for FY2016-FY2018 inclusive of amounts originally authorized in ESSA.
|Title IV Part B: 21st Century Community Learning CentersComparison of Funding Levels|
|FY2016 Appropriations: $1,166,673,000||Budget Changes|
|FY2017 Authorization: $1 billion||FY2017 Appropriations: $1,191,673(+ $25 million)|
|FY2018 Authorization: $1.1 billion||FY2018 Proposed Budget: $0|
Budget Proposal: Fiscal Year 2018
On May 23, 2017, the President released the FY2018 Budget proposal which eliminates a number of programs under ESSA. The proposal aims to increase overall funds in Title I, the grant for disadvantaged students, mainly to facilitate school choice while eliminating Title II-Part A and Title IV Part B explicitly. The budget table that compares funding levels for various education programs shows that the Title IV-A block grant is eliminated. The Administration encourages States and districts to use the funds increase in Title I to address priority areas that are otherwise eliminated by the proposed budget request; Title II which supports effective teachers, and the 21st community learning centers in Title IV that encompass extended day learning and tutoring.
Excerpts from the President’s proposal are as follows:
Title I Funds to Facilitate School Choice
Title I - The 2018 budget request “would maintain support for the regular Title I program while providing up to $1 billion to support crucially needed, locally driven efforts to make public school choice a meaningful reality for more students, especially the poor and minority students who are the focus of Title I. Specifically, the proposed Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success (FOCUS) grants would support LEAs in establishing or expanding student-centered systems that:
- differentiate funding based on student characteristics, providing disadvantaged students more funding on a per-pupil basis than other students;
- offer a range of viable school options and enable the Federal, State, and local funds to follow students to the public school of their choice;
- make school performance and funding data easily accessible to parents; and
- empower school leaders to use funds flexibly to address student and community needs.
Elimination of Grant Programs: Title II & IV
The President’s 2018 Budget eliminates or reduces funding for more than 30 discretionary programs that do not address national needs, duplicate other programs, are ineffective, or are more appropriately supported with State, local, or private funds. These eliminations and reductions would decrease taxpayer costs by $9 billion. Major eliminations in the 2018 Budget include:
Supporting Effective Instruction State grants (Title II-A), a savings of $2.3 billion. The program is proposed for elimination because evidence shows that the program is poorly structured to support activities that have a measurable impact on improving student outcomes. It also duplicates other ESEA program funds that may be used for professional development.
21st Century Community Learning Centers program (Title IV-B), a saving $1.2 billion. The program lacks strong evidence of meeting its objectives, such as improving student achievement. Based on program performance data from the 2014-2015 school year, more than half of program participants had no improvement in their math and English grades and nearly 60 percent of participants attended centers for fewer than 30 days.
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