President Donald Trump's Budget Proposal is mysteriously quiet around funding for Title IV (the Student Success and Academic Enrichment block grant) of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), creating lingering uncertainties with the budget. While we still don’t know what the final budget will look like, we can try to anticipate different routes that could be taken when it comes to the funding.
In order to know what could happen, the current state of dollars should be examined. Federal agencies are running on a continuing resolution, which is a temporary appropriations bill that was passed in December and will run out April 28, 2017. Congress frequently runs on continuing resolutions. In fact, in the last 26 years, a year-long budget has only been agreed on a handful of times. If Congress does not pass a budget, or agree upon another continuing resolution, a government shutdown could ensue (this has happened 17 times since 1976), and education dollars will be left with more questions than answers.
What Does This Mean for K-12 Education?
ESSA is authorized to spend up to $1.6 billion on Title IV, which includes provisions of use for access to well-rounded education, school counseling, school health and safety, and education technology. By placing those important areas under the same umbrella for funding, the amounts left to use on education transformation through the use of technology are lower than the funds initially received from Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT), which at it’s peak was allocated $700 million. Based off of initial Congressional proposals, the $1.6 billion authorized seems highly unlikely to come to fruition.
Dollars for the States
In order to understand how state allocation could change with lower funds for Title IV, we need to define the different types of grants at play:
If Congress chooses to allocate Title IV at a much lower level than what is authorized in law (the Senate proposed a funding level of only $300 million in their budget bill, while the House allocated $1 billion, leaving plenty of room for speculation on actual numbers), the structure of how the funding is divided could look different. Whatever number is actually enacted will still likely change how the state education agencies allocate the funds, at least temporarily.
Because the funding level could be allocated so low, it may not make sense to run Title IV funding as a formula grant. The amount could be so small for every district, that it wouldn’t have much of an impact. If the states change things up and run Title IV like a competitive grant, larger amounts could be given to districts in attempt to increase successful outcomes.
The biggest issue with running Title IV like a discretionary grant is that it gives all authority to the state education agency (SEA) to deem what is or isn’t worthy for innovation dollars. Although only about one-third of the country has submitted their state plans to their prospective SEA, it appears that most plans don’t speak heavily to innovative models that transform education through the use of technology integration. If Title IV is run based on new ideas at the state level, the SEA must have reviewers of plans that are looking for out-of-the-box thinking. This is the only way to implement learning models that point to the intent of the law and push the field forward on personalized learning models.
Any scenario for the education budget is purely speculation at this point, but it is important to think through potential impacts of the scenarios now. If the funding level is closer to the $1.6 billion authorization, every district will receive funds for Title IV unconditionally, so it is important to be planning how to use those dollars. If the alternate scenario of a competitive grant is how the funds get started, every district must be ready with a plan for why they deserve those dollars. Either way, every district must be prepared for ESSA to go live in just a few short months.
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