USED & White House
ED Issues Guidance on New ESSA Block Grant

This morning, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) released non-regulatory guidance for the new block grant under Title IV of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  In this guidance document, ED provides key information on the provisions of the new Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) program, including a discussion of the allowable uses of funds, the role of the State educational agency (SEA), fiscal responsibilities, and the local application requirements.  In addition, the guidance provides examples of several innovative activities that demonstrate allowable uses of funds under the SSAE program.

 

The SSAE program is intended increase the capacity of SEAs, local educational agencies (LEAs), schools, and local communities to:

  • Provide all students with access to a well-rounded education;
  • Improve school conditions for student learning; and
  • Improve the use of technology in order to improve the academic achievement and digital literacy of all students.

The SSAE program provides SEAs, LEAs, and schools with the flexibility to tailor investments based on the needs of their unique student populations. Where possible, ED encourages coordination and integration of the SSAE program with activities authorized under other sections of the law, as well as other federal programs to improve outcomes for students.  In the guidance, ED notes that ensuring all students have access to a holistic well-rounded education is central to the shared work across programs in ESSA. 

 

LEAs or a consortium of LEAs may apply for SSAE program funds and must prioritize the distribution of funds to schools based on one or more of several factors, including schools that:

  • Are among those with the greatest needs, as determined by the LEA;
  • Have the highest numbers of students from low-income families;
  • Are identified for comprehensive support and improvement under Title I, Part A of ESSA;
  • Are implementing targeted support and improvement plans under Title I, Part A of ESSA; or
  • Are identified as a persistently dangerous public school under section 8532 of ESSA.

For the most part, the guidance simply restates the statutory requirements, but there are a few key questions and answers that do provide additional insight.  For example, the guidance reiterates the requirement that for those recipients that receive $30,000 or more, at least 20 percent must be spent on activities leading to a well-rounded education, at least 20 percent must be spent on activities to support safe and healthy students, and some portion of funds must be spent on integrating technology.  However, the guidance notes that some activities could be used to satisfy more than one requirement.  If an activity can be used to satisfy both the well-rounded education and safe and healthy expenditure requirements, the LEA should explain in its application how the activity fits in more than one content area.  The SEA will ultimately approve or disapprove the activity through its application approval process consistent with relevant statutory application requirements.

 

Furthermore, the guidance states that the expenditure requirements regarding use of funds in the three SSAE program content areas apply only at the LEA level.  In meeting these requirements, an LEA has flexibility in determining the amount of funds to distribute to a school and for which activities, provided its determinations are consistent with its needs assessment and school prioritization.  An LEA might, for example, use 20 percent of its funds for an arts program in only two of its elementary schools and use 40 percent of its funds for a district-wide school climate program, consistent with its assurance to prioritize schools most in need.  If multiple LEAs apply as a consortium, the expenditure requirements only apply to the consortium as a whole.  Each LEA in a consortium is not required to meet the expenditure requirements individually with respect to its allocation.

 

In regards to the portion of funds used on integrating technology, the guidance clarifies that at least 85 percent of the educational technology funds must be used to support professional learning to enable the effective use of educational technology.  Recipients may not spend more than 15 percent of funding in this section on devices, equipment, software applications, platforms, digital instructional resources and/or other one-time IT purchases.

 

The guidance contains additional examples of allowable use of funds, and various other provisions, including local applications and fiscal requirements.  Through this guidance ED provides resources and tools and also spotlights examples of innovative strategies to support the effective implementation of the SSAE program.  Local leaders are encouraged to consider how other federal, State, and local funds may be leveraged across programs to maximize the impact of the programs and services that can be provided under the SSAE program to generate added value and improve outcomes for students.  Additionally, SEAs, LEAs, and schools should thoughtfully consider how partnerships with organizations such as nonprofits, institutions of higher education, museums, and community organizations might help leverage limited resources.  Any interested parties with questions on the SSAE program and non-regulatory guidance are encouraged to contact David Esquith, ED’s Director of the Office of Safe and Healthy Students, at David.Esquith@ed.gov.

About the Author

Steven Spillan is an associate with the Washington, DC law firm of Brustein & Manasevit, PLLC. Established in 1980, the Firm is nationally recognized for its federal education regulatory and legislative practice, providing legal advice regarding compliance with all major federal education programs as well as the federal grants management requirements, including the Education Department General Administrative Regulations (EDGAR). In addition, they work with agencies on federal spending flexibility, allowability, policies and procedures, audit defense and resolution and legislative updates. The Firm provides government relations services for the National Title I Association.